Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Wanted Man: The Fugitive (Theodore Boone) by John Grisham

Theo was standing in the middle of the subway car, with Chase and April close by.

A man seated tightly between two women lowered his newspaper as he flipped a page. He looked familiar, oddly familiar.

Theo wiggled a few feet closer. He'd seen that face before, but where? Maybe the hair was darker, maybe the reading glasses were new. Suddenly, it struck Theo like a brick against the head. The face belonged to Pete Duffy.

Pete Duffy! The most wanted man in the history of Strattenburg. Number seven on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted.

Theo Boone's class trip to Washington, D.C., is quickly forgotten as he realizes whom he's seeing. Quickly Theo pulls out his iPhone, and pretending to play a game, manages to video the man, zooming in closely as the guy folds his newspaper and gets up to get off the Metro at the next station. Leaving his classmates on the subway, Theo follows the suspect as he exits and stays behind him several blocks until he loses him in the crowd.

Theodore Boone, kid lawyer, has more than a citizen's duty at stake here. He and Duffy have a long history. Pete Duffy had been indicted for the strangling of his wife through Theo's behind-the-scenes location of a secret witness who saw the accused don a golf glove on his right hand and enter his own house adjoining the golf course and then bury both gloves deep in a rubbish bin, but Duffy had jumped bail before conviction and disappeared months ago.

Theo knows he has to do something. He calls his Uncle Ike, disbarred lawyer and family black sheep, who flies to Washington, and in disguise joins Theo on the subway in surveillance for the fugitive, finally calling in the FBI. But Duffy doesn't show, and it is not until Theo and Uncle Ike are heading home at the airport that Theo literally bumps into the fugitive.

"Sorry," Theo mumbled. Then he froze, but remembered Agent Frye's warning, "Don't stare."

He called Agent Slade and started following Duffy, now with blond hair and different glasses, down the concourse at a distance.

"I got "Packer!" he whispered into his phone.

And that's just the beginning of John Grisham's fourth book in his Theodore Boone series, Theodore Boone: the Fugitive (Dutton Books, 2015). The FBI agents collar Duffy boarding a plane to Brazil, and he is returned to Theo's hometown for retrial, now also indicted for fleeing the law. But Duffy's murder conviction hangs on the testimony of illegal immigrant Bobby Escobar, and Bobby is reasonably afraid to testify for fear of deportation or, worse, murder by Duffy's accomplices, and Theo, too, is afraid for his own and Bobby's safety.

When the best-selling John Grisham puts out an adult or junior novel, the reader knows he's going to get an edge-of-seat, too-fast-to-blink page turner, and Grisham definitely delivers in his new fourth book in the popular "kid lawyer" series. Grisham's middle-reader thrillers enjoy the same virtues and vices as his adult literature, and a fast-paced crime novel that is hard to put down is pretty much guaranteed and delivered in the opening chapters of this tale. But Grisham has a lot of backstory to pack into this one, and in the second part, his writing seems rushed as he pivots into the rest of the exposition and builds a different sort of suspense to get to the climactic trial scene, adding a few more improbable details to get where he wants to go. But, hey! Who really cares, as Grisham brings it all down to the denouement, as Duffy is sent to the slammer for life--or not, if the author doesn't retire his intrepid eighth-grade sleuth, Theo, the up-dated Nancy Drew of his time.

Like the young reader eco-thrillers of his contemporary Carl Hiaasen, Grisham's books offer sophisticated, witty, and realistic kid characters who manage to deal with adult matters with plenty of cool. Recommended even for the reluctant reader, this one should pair well with Dave Barry's hilarious new best-seller for kids, The Worst Class Trip Ever (See review here.) Although this fourth Theo Boone tale stands well alone, readers won't want miss the earlier books in the series, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, Theodore Boone: The Accused, Theodore Boone: the Abduction,
and Theodore Boone: the Activist.

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