Grisham waxes eloquent on social ills and inequities in a new tale of an outlier lawyer. Sebastian Rudd's fully-equipped van sometimes serves as an office on wheels, at other times a place to sleep.
It is also the repository for a small but adequate secret arsenal. A defense attorney who accepts the most extreme clients--drug addicts, death row inmates, gangsters--he hovers between reviled and disliked by fellow attorneys, judges and the media: “Call Sebastian Rudd. He’ll defend anybody.” Through a series of cases, each memorable in its notoriety, Grisham describes the life of an attorney habitually skirting the edge of ethics.
In the first example of legal high jinks, the defendant is on trial for the murder of two young girls. Rudd stands by as the prosecutor and judge make specific mistakes that will assure a reversal for his client. Once they have painted themselves into a corner he strikes, enjoying their frantic efforts to save a badly prepared case. Sebastian, he’s one of those sly lawyers standing back, watching the drama unfold, savoring the moment to better enjoy the fruits of his legal brinkmanship. The second case plunges Rudd into the depths of a Georgia prison--death row, to be exact, where client Link Scanlon, a convicted multiple murderer, is counting down the last few hours before execution. Once more, Sebastian performs his due diligence as expected, watching a carefully scripted plan unfold, the shocking consequences highlighting not only the flawed prison system, but the hubris of bureaucrats and camera-seeking public figures.
From courtroom to prison to a cage-fighting arena, Rudd manages to escape harm and--so far--retribution. Such venues provide a bounty of colorful figures engaged in various forms of dysfunction, a combination of bureaucratic legal system and the mechanics of incarceration. Neither bleeding heart nor crusader, Sebastian has thus far made peace with the system’s anomalies, the only downside to his bizarre lifestyle an inability to resist fighting over his young son with ex-wife, Judith, also an attorney. (The tone of the novel is somewhere between irony and cynicism, Rudd a loner who has built considerable defenses to maintain his comfort level, understandable, but not particularly attractive in a protagonist.)
Grisham’s saving grace is his skill in making legal complications comprehensible to the layperson. One unfortunate case exposes the behind-the-scenes manipulation of facts after a SWAT team makes a late-night attack on the home of Doug and Katherine Renfro for the
Internet sale of drugs. The team goes in loud and hard, gunfire is exchanged, and Kitty Renfro lies dead in a hallway outside her bedroom, her husband only trying to defend his home from unknown intruders. A later investigation finds the couple innocent of charges, but by now public officials are unable to back down in the glare of media attention. Representing Renfro from an egregious use of power is the perfect case for Rudd, officials firmly in his crosshairs.
All in all, it’s a troubling view of a legal system weighted in favor of the powerful, a mill that grinds slowly as Sebastian Rudd defends the innocent and guilty alike, a savvy poker player who knows when to bluff, when to fold, and when to walk away until the next game. There’s an old saying: “If you lie down with dogs, you’re going to get fleas.” Sebastian lies down with a lot of dogs in Rogue Lawyer, only one of a handful eliciting sympathy. Not a pretty practice and not an attorney bound by principles: “I gave up worrying about ethics a long time ago. In my world, my enemies are ruthless.”