Sunday, 1 March 2009

“The Common Lawyer”, Mark Gimenez

I stumbled across Mark Gimenez by accident. Last summer, annoyed by being unable to find Stuart MacBride's “Flesh House” as an airport exclusive in Terminal Five, and being stuck for a book for a short trip to Frankfurt (because obviously you can always buy a book at an airport) “The Perk” found its way into my possession; and I loved it. While I'm sure Texas would be far too hot for me, and I worry that too much of it would be the sort of strip mall America I'm distinctly less keen on, in his writing Mark Gimenez makes me interested in it, makes one identify with it, and critically it becomes a place the reader feels comfortable in and familiar with.

Mark Gimenez has consistently been likened to John Grisham, and not just because all his titles start with definite article. This, perhaps more than his previous works follows the Grisham like morality tale of the innocent rags to corrupt riches and back to righteous rags progression of the central character. Like Grisham, Gimenez paints a warts and all portrait of the legal world, combining detail of legal process with lawyers who are, almost universally, somewhat flawed human beings.

The very ordinariness of the protagonist, Andy Prescott is a distinct departure from previous works. This time he's not a software billionaire or a blue chip law firm employee; instead he's an indifferent local lawyer specialising in annulling speeding tickets, regarding his job as a means to his particular ends of riding mountain bikes and failing to get a girlfriend. As such Andy Prescott is a particular strength of the book. While long hair and extreme sports are not really what I'm all about, he's a thoroughly engaging character, and if one excludes the excesses of his 'riches' phase, he's both inherently one of the good guys and, critically, someone I think I would like to know.

Where Gimenez has fallen short in the past is in his children characters. In previous works they have simply been far too grown up, coping with adult issues with perceptive stoicism that simply does not ring true. While the core driver of “The Common Lawyer”, with the terminal illness of a billionaire's son, obviously concerns childhood, the roles played are more peripheral, and their actions more childlike; the book benefits hugely from this. That said, the obvious identification with children and their issues, particularly surrounding illness and disability, are handled with a moving sensibility that is often very powerful.

Part legal thriller, part morality play, part action novel “The Common Lawyer” is Mark Gimenez's most accomplished work to date. It's moving, engaging, and I like to think insightful. As an airport novel it's flawless. Bought at Gatwick on Thursday it was finished late on Friday night, driven by the pretty relentless pace of the plot and by a genuine desire to be in Gimenez's Texas universe. It's not without it's flaws, it's sentimental in the extreme in some places and I'm sure someone of a scientific bent could drive a cart and horse through the core premise, but its fusion of the legal thriller and action genres makes it an eminently readable proposition.


  1. I enjoyed Gimenez's first book - which I believe was published the year Grisham decided to write a non-genre book, so the publisher was looking for an alternative. I enjoyed it but rather in the same way I enjoy Grisham - good but not stand-out, and I was one step ahead of where the author wanted the reader to be, plotwise. I haven't read any more because there are just so many that compete for the attention - but based on this review, maybe I should.

  2. Thanks for the kind comment Maxine. I'd recommend reading more of Gimenez, with the caveat that if I was pressed in any way for time I'd skip "The Abduction", which doesn't sit nearly so easily in the overall believability stakes.

    You're probably on the money regarding his predictability and the summation of 'good but not stand out'. This is a no brainer from the library, utterly fine as an airport book, rash paperback buy, or charity shop acquisition, but probably not one to see as a hardback keeper.

    That said, he's clearly getting more accomplished in his work - I liked "The Perk" a lot, and this is substantively better, and where he scores over Grisham is his ability to be genuinely moving when dealing with difficult human topics.

    I guess we live in a world where there are few outstanding writers, and so long as we have the urge to fill our days with books, good, above average authors like Gimenez are worth having around.