This ties into my second criticism of the lack of any subtlety whatsoever to the novel. There is no doubt more or less from page one where Grisham is headed with this one, because he telegraphs how much he hates big business and how plaintiff's lawyers are heroes for standing up to the corporations. I don't necessarily object to the message (corporations have been known for doing exactly what is portrayed in this book, after all), but I think it's ludicrous the way it is presented. There is no pause to consider that corporations provide jobs and all sorts of other benefits. No, instead they are headed by men like Carl Trudeau who do nothing except plot ways to destroy others in pursuit of the almighty buck. To say this book was "too on the nose" in its criticism would be wildly understating the problem.
I truly think Grisham has a point when it comes to judicial elections. I do not support them in any way. But the way that this novel is presented just makes it too much like an old fashioned morality play that undercuts the message. I gave this two stars because I felt the plot was at least OK, but that's really all that can be said for it. Grisham is capable of more, but maybe I have to stop expecting that I'll get more from him.
I don't know why I keep hoping for more from John Grisham, but I keep waiting for him to get back to the thrillers he was once famous for. I recall enjoying The Pelican Brief and The Firm (though I read these so long ago that I haven't rated them here) and I have to wonder at this point if my enjoyment of them was because I had not yet been introduced to great writing. The major problems of this novel center on two issues: character development and a lack of any subtlety whatsoever. First, to character development. A writer should strive to have characters we care about with rich backstories explaining their motivations and who are not all perfect or all terrible. While having characters who are "all perfect" or "all terrible" can lead to interesting forays into symbolism and allegory, that is not what anyone should ever expect from a Grisham novel. But what Grisham delivers here instead IS the all perfect and all terrible characters with no real purpose whatsoever to their lack of flaws or pure evil besides getting his message out, namely "corporations are bad, plaintiff's trial lawyers are heroes". I have no doubt that it would be possible to craft a trial lawyer who is pursuing justice but is nonetheless capable of making mistakes and being ruthless in that pursuit (just ask Scott Turow, who is absolutely tremendous when compared to Mr. Grisham on this count). But apparently Mr. Grisham prefers his characters to be the zealous pursuers of the right who are nevertheless undone by malevolent forces beyond their control that they can hardly anticipate. They are pure and without any fault. In short, they are not real. The same can be said for Mr. Grisham's villain. I don't doubt that some version of Carl Trudeau exists in our world, but I do doubt that he is some sort of maniacal Cruella de Vil sort (who, by the way, is guilty of committing all sorts of SEC violations that would no doubt be uncovered in the real world). Ron Fisk is the only one who comes even close to appearing to be a real character, but even he is basically made into a simpleton when it's not truly necessary.