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IN BRIEF

Fiction

April 04, 1993|KAREN STABINER

THE CLIENT by John Grisham (Doubleday: $23.50; 422 pp.) . When taken in the abstract, this is truly a terrifying story: A young streetwise boy named Mark Sway stumbles upon a would-be suicide while out for an afternoon's illicit smoke with his kid brother. Mark's Good Samaritan efforts land his brother in a hospital in shock, and put him, his mom and brother in jeopardy--at the mercy not just of the gangster who drove his lawyer to end his life but also of a legal system that cannot quite bend to cope with a panicked child who knows more than he comprehends. The best officials can do is offer Mark's family the witness-protection program, a safe haven that requires abandoning their lives completely and beginning anew. Mark's ally in his fight is lawyer Reggie Love, a central-casting concept if there ever was one--a middle-aged woman who left behind a fancy marriage and a bout of substance abuse before emerging as a defender, aptly enough, of abused children. There is all the makings of a poignant tale, including an opening scene that is quite literally breathtaking, a finely polished little set piece. If only Grisham had followed through. He does not. The rest of the novel is lazy, built on pat characterizations and thin ideas, little more than an outline for the movie that has already been announced.

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