John Grisham

The King of Torts

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The King of Torts Summary

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The King of Torts (2003), a legal suspense novel by John Grisham, centers on a disillusioned public defender whose young client leads him into a complex legal battle which might restore his passion for the law. Although well received, The King of Torts is one of Grisham’s less-popular novels. Grisham worked in a US law firm before becoming a full-time writer. He is an award-winning, bestselling novelist best known for his legal thrillers. After quitting the law to write full-time, he once returned to the courtroom to defend a client in a case he had promised he’d take on.

Clay Carter is everything he once promised himself he wouldn’t be—an ill-paid public defender who has lost his passion for justice and defending the innocent. All he wants now is a change. He wants to work for a large law firm where he feels he’ll be better appreciated for his efforts, and he doesn’t want to be a defense attorney anymore. In the meantime, he turns up to work each day hoping for the perfect case to restore his faith in public defense.

One day, he’s assigned a new case that looks just like all the others he takes on so frequently. Tequila Watson has been accused of murdering a passing stranger in town. When Clay meets Tequila, he assumes he’ll get the same old excuses as he usually gets. However, Tequila tells him that he didn’t feel in control of his body, and he’s never felt like that before. Clay can’t help but believe Tequila. He doesn’t know if he’s trying to make the case more complicated than it is, or if Tequila is innocent. What he does know is that he’s determined to find out the truth.

Clay, an experienced public defender, knows where to look for evidence that isn’t easily or readily available. He scours seedy parts of the city to find potential sources and witnesses that might help the case. During his investigation, Clay stumbles upon the records of another man who was convicted of murder. The man had no motive for killing a stranger, and he didn’t feel in control of his body. This makes Clay believe there’s something more disturbing going on than a random killing.

Clay’s suspicions are confirmed when he gets Tequila’s medical records from a local drug rehabilitation clinic. Clay is contacted by a man calling himself Max, who tells Clay that the patients in the clinic were given an experimental drug, Tarvan, during their stay. It’s an illegal operation because testing hasn’t yet been sanctioned by the government. Although Tarvan helps stop drug addiction, it has lethal side effects.

Tarvan alters the brain chemistry in such a way that nearly 10 percent of patients committed random, unprovoked assaults and murders. The pharmaceutical company knows this, and its paying big money to cover this side effect up. Clay doesn’t know how to proceed, because this is bigger than one client, but he also can’t let Tequila spend the rest of his life in prison.

Meanwhile, Clay’s girlfriend, Rebecca, dumps him in favor of a corporate lawyer to please her rich family. Clay is deeply disappointed, but he’s too distracted by the complexities of the case to dwell on it. He focuses his energy on Tequila’s case—however, soon, he’s asked to resign as public defender, because it’s obvious he now knows too much. Clay decides to open his own law firm specializing in civil damages claims, or torts. He thinks this will impress Rebecca and allow him to sue the pharmaceutical company for huge sums of damages for his clients.

In the meantime, he must hide what he knows from Tequila, whose fate is now uncertain. He sues a major drug company for another controversial drug that causes cancerous tumors, and he’s welcomed into the top-tier US law world. His clients are happy with their settlements until they see how much money Clay makes on the back of their cases. They feel it’s unjust, and he gets a reputation for being a shark.

Meanwhile, Clay is approached by the FBI. It looks like Clay sold shares in the pharmaceutical company he recently sued right before he started proceedings against it. This is insider trading, which is illegal. Clay could go to jail. Now, he regrets ever getting involved in the glamorous corporate law world.

Things get worse when Clay’s clients develop far more serious tumors than first thought. However, they gave up their rights to sue for any more compensation, and so they sue Clay for badly advising them. Clay knows he’ll soon be bankrupt, and he has nowhere to turn. At this point, Rebecca comes back into his life, and they agree to give their relationship another shot. He must declare bankruptcy and start afresh.

Clay exposes the Tarvan drug, and he begins a campaign to free Tequila and others wrongfully imprisoned because of the drug. Although he has no money, he feels free and liberated, as he begins his new life with Rebecca.