Tuesday, June 09, 2015
The Firm - John Grisham
Liked it. Liked it enough to want to read another John Grisham.
Unlike most of the literature in the genre of mystery or thriller that leaves me in the end feeling certain things were not explained, that some questions/riddles are not answered, that the novel was too fast paced or the plot too intricate to grasp, this one turned out to be consummate.
There aren’t too many characters – or I could say the central characters are a few and that helps. The protagonist is a brilliant fellow and it would require brilliance on the part an author to create such a character and a plot that serves as an instrument for bringing out a character’s brilliance.
Mitchelle McDeere, a lawyer from Harvard, gets recruited into a law firm in Memphis – Bendini, Lambert & Locke - that makes an incredibly lucrative offer – salary, bonus, car – BMW, house, perks, yearly vacation in the Grand Cayman (Carribean) and more.
He accepts the offer, moves to the city with his wife Abby and begins working for 18 hours a day. He is assigned to a senior partner who gives him clients and files to work on and has an efficient secretary Nina.
Very soon he is approached by an FBI agent Wayne Tarrance, who warns him about the dangerous situation in which the lawyer is, that his car is bugged, that his house is bugged, that his office is bugged, that two lawyers working in the firm who had reportedly died in a boat accident in the Carribean, had actually been eliminated, that he was being watched very closely by the firm and was to be careful.
Mitch unable to decide whom to trust – the firm or the FBI agent, relates the incident to the senior partners of the firm, keeping certain details to himself.
The firm which indeed is a dubious one, becomes alert at once and increases its vigilance of Mitch.
Mitch has an elder brother Ray, who is in prison. During one of their meetings, Ray mentions a co-prisoner and friend of his, Eddie Lomax, now free and working as a private detective in Memphis and tells Mitch to avail his help in need.
Mitch approaches Eddie with his doubts and fears and sets him on the job. Eddie finds out that the two lawyers who die, died very mysteriously and so did the other lawyers working in the firm in the past.
In a few days, Eddie is killed. His secretary Tammy, who is to be most useful to Mitch in days to come leaves the city for a while.
The firm becomes worried when one of their men following Mitch reports having seen him meeting Tarrance again.
DeVasher arranges for Mitch to be sent to the Grand Cayman with a senior partner Avery Tolleson, where he is solicited by prostitutes arranged by the firm. Mitch, a married man in love with Abby, tells one of them off.
But having consumed alcohol, he gets carried away by another woman to a secluded beach and after much resisting, gives into her coquettish charms. A photographer hidden behind a tree at a distance takes pictures.
Once back in Memphis, DeVasher meets with Mitch, shows him the pictures and threatens to post the pictures to Abby if he is ever seen having anything to do with the FBI.
What DeVasher does not know is that while in Grand Cayman, Mitch has met with Larry Abanks, the local who had rented his boat to the two lawyers who had been eliminated in a mysterious looking accident in the sea, in which Abanks’ son too had died. Mitch had spoken to Abanks in detail, let him know his suspicions that it wasn’t really an accident; this acquaintance was to be a great help to Mitch one day.
During Mitch’s training in Washington DC, the FBI arranges to discreetly take him to a secluded place where the FBI director himself, Denton Voyles meets Mitch and tells him the complete story. The law firm is actually owned by the Morolto family of Chicago, the underworld. The new recruits are given clean files and legitimate clients to work on while the partners and senior lawyers do all the dirty work – money laundering – taking black money of the underworld out of the nation to Grand Cayman, depositing it in banks there, bringing that money into the US as clean money, investing it in property, companies in the US, doing all the law work – partnerships, tax work, among others for these companies, helping other clients to evade taxes legally...
There is the fifth floor and DeVasher there is monitoring and tracking the output of all the bugs in the cars, offices and homes of all the lawyers, meeting with the underworld family members, reporting to them...
The FBI had smelled all this and had approached two lawyers, the insiders to help them collect evidence. These two had died mysteriously days later.
Nobody ever left the firm alive. Except senior partners who retired. To become a senior partner, a lawyer worked for years, and at some point was made part of the crime, let in on the secret and by that time, the lawyer was so involved in the conspiracy that he gave up thoughts of leaving, stifled all inner voices and joined the gang.
All others who thought of leaving were eliminated.
The FBI has now chosen Mitch to get their evidence. If he chooses to cooperate, he will get life-long protection from the FBI, a new identity, a new passport, a job in any location of his preference, any number of relocations, a million dollars.
If he does not, then the FBI will find another way of getting its evidence, bust the firm, jail all its lawyers and partners, cancel their licence to practise and it indict all of them.
Mitch knows he has no escape. Because the mafia never forgets. It will get back. After ten or twenty years. Until then, they will have to live in perpetual fear. They will have to undergo surgery to get a different face, live under pseudonyms for the rest of their lives, live in remote locations to remain inconspicuous, be on the run most of the time... it will never be the same again.
Mitch agrees to cooperate with the FBI.
He is a brilliant guy. When FBI offers him 1 million dollars, he asks for 2 million and asks also for the release of his brother Ray from the prison.
He starts work.
He smuggles in his briefcase all the files, some clean and some dirty, that he is able to lay his hands on, to a small rented place a few paces from his office where Tammy is carefully copying all the files on a sophisticated copier that’s been arranged by Mitch.
Tammy becomes his assistant and a brilliant one at that.
Mitch delivers the first set of files and has the first million dollars deposited into a bank and account number of his choice.
Mitch and the FBI arrange to have clandestine meetings in various places at various times. The firm follow his trail closely but with the help of the FBI, he manages to get away. The firm however, smells something fishy and begins its verification. The mafia begins to investigate on its own and in the end begins plans to eliminate him.
Mitch has to continue meanwhile: copy the highly guarded dirty files. And this is a brilliant plan too.
Avery flies to Grand Cayman on business. Abby and Tammy are already waiting for him there. Tammy poses as a prostitute and lures Avery. They both get into the condominium where Tammy prepares a drink for him with sleep inducing pills mixed in it. She takes his key-bunch and opens a room in which are hidden many dirty documents and files. She fills as many as she can into suitcases and walks to a room nearby in which Abby is ready to make copies. They have purchased a sophisticated copier and arranged for it to be delivered to their room. Abby hands the copying task to Tammy for a while and leaves to a smith with the key bunch and gets duplicates made in the dead of night.
They spend the whole night making trips to the condominium where Avery is sound asleep, returning copied files to their place and loading new files into the suitcase.
They put the copied files to suitcases and fly them into the US.
There is a small room in Memphis that Mitch and Tammy have rented to serve as a storehouse for all the copied files.
Tammy makes many more trips to Grand Cayman equipped with the duplicate keys and manages to get all the files so the FBI will have all the indictments they want.
The time has come for the FBI to keep its promise and release his brother Ray from the prison. One night, it is arranged for Ray to walk out of his prison, climb the high wall of the prison using a ladder kept in place for him, jump down, meet an escort to be taken to his car and drive away.
Mitch sends Abby away to be safe; she is to wait for his next message.
He knows he cannot trust the FBI. He knows he has to run from the firm. And from the FBI.
Through the copies, Mitch learns of the various banks, account numbers, money transfers done, etc., in detail.
He transfers 9 to 10 million dollars from these bank accounts owned by the firm to his own account, his in-law’s account, his mother’s account and Tammy’s account. Once the run begins, they will not meet anyone – family or friend.
Through an FBI agent that the mafia knows, Mitch’s involvement with the FBI is confirmed. It is arranged for him to fly to the Grand Cayman in the private plane owned by the firm which will blow up in mid air. He will fly alone, so Avery is arranged to be hospitalized for heart attack.
The FBI agent who is a traitor is found out and the FBI knows Mitch is in danger.
When there are 3 more hours to go before the flight to Grand Cayman, Mitch gets a call from Tarrance and the code word for ‘Danger, Run’.
And the run begins.
When the FBI expects Mitch to run away from the firm and towards them, Mitch tells the FBI he does not trust them and runs from them too.
Mitch communicates to Abby and Ray who are all in different places through Tammy.
Abby is being followed by a woman.
She meets Ray in a designated place and they both manage to gag the woman in her room and run.
FBI begins chasing Micth, Abby and Ray. So is the firm.
Mitch meets Abby and Ray and they drive from place to place in a van loaded with all the copies of files. Their fake passports and other ID documents reach them in time, thanks to Tammy.
In a motel room on the East Coast, Mitch sits before a camera and makes 16 hours of tape explaining all the neatly stacked copies of files, telling as if a story – how the firm operates, who the clients are, which banks are owned by the firm, the various bank accounts, transactions, amounts...
The FBI as well as the mafia knows his trail by now and are within a few hundred meters of him. All the partners of Bendini, Lambert & Locke are on the beach looking for the three.
All airports, roads, toll gates are blocked. The sea is full of boats looking out for the three.
He keeps his promise and arranges, through Tammy, for the tapes to reach the FBI.
One night, the three of them set out separately and linger at the beach within a few metres of each other. Abby walks to the edge of pier, holds a torch before her and flashes green light out to the sea. A goon from the mafia sees it, knows there is only one explanation and rushes to Abby. Mitch and Ray kill him and toss him into the sea. The three of them descend to the rail under the pier and wait there, flashing the green light.
A boat arrives and Larry Abanks helps them to descend to it and they sail away. They are introduced to Larry’s friend and accomplice who has been living incognito for years now. Mitch, Abby and Ray, with millions of dollars in a bank, sail to the quiet unknown island which is the abode of their new friend and begin their life of seclusion unseen by anyone in the outside world.
Many other things apart, one things that stands out in this work is the most important, all consuming American preoccupation with money – get rich, quick money, easy money, wealth, the multiplying of it, never ending thirst for more and more money, money, money. The protagonist and the antagonist are the same in this...
But as I said, it’s a well narrated story and I am going to pick up another John Grisham. Its thrill that comes with its supply of information – about how people, things, and institutions work in America.