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Monday 2 June 2014
Review: John Grisham, The Racketeer and Javier Marias, The Infatuations
I have discovered that when I have too many worries - and on the wagon as far as alcohol is concerned - then an engrossing thriller is a great comfort. John Grisham was very effective in making me think about his plot rather than my anxieties. Thank you!
It's a complicated, ingenious plot and of course you want to understand it and get to know how things turn out in the end. Equally, there is a setting for the plot which - intentionally or not, I don't know - invites one to more serious reflection.
Grisham writes bleakly about the American criminal justice system - police, lawyers, courts, prisons - and reminds you forcefully of many things you know or half-know and which add up to putting a very big question mark over the idea of the United States as a civilised country. When it comes to Justice, it ain't. It's vicious, primitive and scary. Not just Death Row and botched executions, but violent prisons, corrupt law enforcement, crooked lawyers, and running through it all, racism.
This is one reason why you sympathise with the first-person narrator of Grisham's book, a black lawyer wrongfully imprisoned who finds an ingenious way to take revenge on the system. And rather than feel that he acted in any way wrongly, you end up feeling that he has merely righted the scales of justice - maybe two wrongs do make a right.
And soon you are thinking about Justice, one of the main themes in The Infatuations by Javier Marias. This is a long (373 page) book, slow moving, complex, complexly written in very long sentences. It is at one level a Murder Mystery but more importantly a sustained reflection on Crime, Justice and Punishment - and Passion. There are passages (pages 214 - 215 and 342 - 343 for example) which seem designed to make us wonder if we have got it all wrong. Maybe we do more harm than good by looking for criminals and punishing their crimes. Maybe there are cases where we should just ignore what we know and certainly not alert anyone in authority. They will only make matters worse. Maybe if we do nothing, then in many cases the scales of justice will over time tip back into balance. Maybe a wrong can be righted by doing nothing.