The King of Torts

The King of Torts

by John Grisham

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The Office of the Public Defender is not known as a training ground for bright young litigators. Clay Carter has been there too long and, like most of his colleagues, dreams of a better job in a real firm. When he reluctantly takes the case of a man charged with a random street killing, he assumes it is just another of the many senseless murders that hit D.C. every week.

As he digs into the background of his client, Clay stumbles on a conspiracy too horrible to believe. He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a complex case against one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and looking at the kind of enormous settlement that would totally change his life—that would make him, almost overnight, the legal profession’s newest king of torts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345531995
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/31/2012
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 81,098
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

John Grisham is the author of twenty-three novels, including, most recently, The Litigators; one work of nonfiction, a collection of stories, and a novel for young readers. He is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He lives in Virginia and Mississippi.


Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia

Date of Birth:

February 8, 1955

Place of Birth:

Jonesboro, Arkansas


B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981

Read an Excerpt

THE SHOTS THAT FIRED the bullets that entered Pumpkin's head were heard by no less than eight people. Three instinctively closed their windows, checked their door locks, and withdrew to the safety, or at least the seclusion, of their small apartments. Two others, each with experience in such matters, ran from the vicinity as fast if not faster than the gunman himself. Another, the neighborhood recycling fanatic, was digging through some garbage in search of aluminum cans when he heard the sharp sounds of the daily skirmish, very nearby. He jumped behind a pile of cardboard boxes until the shelling stopped, then eased into the alley where he saw what was left of Pumpkin.

And two saw almost everything. They were sitting on plastic milk crates, at the corner of Georgia and Lamont in front of a liquor store, partially hidden by a parked car so that the gunman, who glanced around briefly before following Pumpkin into the alley, didn't see them. Both would tell the police that they saw the boy with the gun reach into his pocket and pull it out; they saw the gun for sure, a small black pistol. A second later they heard the shots, though they did not actually see Pumpkin take them in the head. Another second, and the boy with the gun darted from the alley and, for some reason, ran straight in their direction. He ran bent at the waist, like a scared dog, guilty as hell. He wore red-and-yellow basketball shoes that seemed five sizes too big and slapped the pavement as he made his getaway.

When he ran by them he was still holding the gun, probably a .38, and he flinched just for a instant when he saw them and realized they had seen too much. For one terrifying second, he seemed to raise the gun as if to eliminate the witnesses, both of whom managed to flip backward from their plastic milk crates and scramble off in a mad flurry of arms and legs. Then he was gone.

One of them opened the door to the liquor store and yelled for someone to call the police, there had been a shooting.

Thirty minutes later, the police received a call that a young man matching the description of the one who had wasted Pumpkin had been seen twice on Ninth Street carrying a gun in open view and acting stranger than most of the people on Ninth. He had tried to lure at least one person into an abandoned lot, but the intended victim had escaped and reported the incident.

The police found their man an hour later. His name was Tequila Watson, black male, age twenty, with the usual drug-related police record. No family to speak of. No address. The last place he'd been sleeping was a rehab unit on W Street. He'd managed to ditch the gun somewhere, and if he'd robbed Pumpkin then he'd also thrown away the cash or drugs or whatever the booty was. His pockets were clean, as were his eyes. The cops were certain Tequila was not under the influence of anything when he was arrested. A quick and rough interrogation took place on the street, then he was handcuffed and shoved into the rear seat of a D.C. police car.

They drove him back to Lamont Street, where they arranged an impromptu encounter with the two witnesses. Tequila was led into the alley where he'd left Pumpkin. "Ever been here before?" a cop asked.

Tequila said nothing, just gawked at the puddle of fresh blood on the dirty concrete. The two witnesses were eased into the alley, then led quietly to a spot near Tequila.

"That's him," both said at the same time.

"He's wearing the same clothes, same basketball shoes, everything but the gun."

"That's him."

"No doubt about it."

Tequila was shoved into the car once again and taken to jail. He was booked for murder and locked away with no immediate chance of bail. Whether through experience or just fear, Tequila never said a word to the cops as they pried and cajoled and even threatened. Nothing incriminating, nothing helpful. No indication of why he would murder Pumpkin. No clue as to their history, if one existed at all. A veteran detective made a brief note in the file that the killing appeared a bit more random than was customary.

No phone call was requested. No mention of a lawyer or a bail bondsman. Tequila seemed dazed but content to sit in a crowded cell and stare at the floor.

PUMPKIN HAD NO TRACEABLE father but his mother worked as a security guard in the basement of a large office building on New York Avenue. It took three hours for the police to determine her son's real name—Ram-n Pumphrey—to locate his address, and to find a neighbor willing to tell them if he had a mother.

Adelfa Pumphrey was sitting behind a desk just inside the basement entrance, supposedly watching a bank of monitors. She was a large thick woman in a tight khaki uniform, a gun on her waist, a look of complete disinterest on her face. The cops who approached her had done so a hundred times. They broke the news, then found her supervisor.

In a city where young people killed each other every day, the slaughter had thickened skins and hardened hearts, and every mother knew many others who'd lost their children. Each loss brought death a step closer, and every mother knew that any day could be the last. The mothers had watched the others survive the horror. As Adelfa Pumphrey sat at her desk with her face in her hands, she thought of her son and his lifeless body lying somewhere in the city at that moment, being inspected by strangers.

She swore revenge on whoever killed him.

She cursed his father for abandoning the child.

She cried for her baby.

And she knew she would survive. Somehow, she would survive.

ADELFA WENT TO COURT to watch the arraignment. The police told her the punk who'd killed her son was scheduled to make his first appearance, a quick and routine matter in which he would plead not guilty and ask for a lawyer. She was in the back row with her brother on one side and a neighbor on the other, her eyes leaking tears into a damp handkerchief. She wanted to see the boy. She also wanted to ask him why, but she knew she would never get the chance.

They herded the criminals through like cattle at an auction. All were black, all wore orange coveralls and handcuffs, all were young. Such waste.

In addition to his handcuffs, Tequila was adorned with wrist and ankle chains since his crime was especially violent, though he looked fairly harmless when he was shuffled into the courtroom with the next wave of offenders. He glanced around quickly at the crowd to see if he recognized anyone, to see if just maybe someone was out there for him. He was seated in a row of chairs, and for good measure one of the armed bailiffs leaned down and said, "That boy you killed. That's his mother back there in the blue dress."

With his head low, Tequila slowly turned and looked directly into the wet and puffy eyes of Pumpkin's mother, but only for a second. Adelfa stared at the skinny boy in the oversized coveralls and wondered where his mother was and how she'd raised him and if he had a father, and, most important, how and why his path had crossed that of her boy's. The two were about the same age as the rest of them, late teens or early twenties. The cops had told her that it appeared, at least initially, that drugs were not involved in the killing. But she knew better. Drugs were involved in every layer of street life. Adelfa knew it all too well. Pumpkin had used pot and crack and he'd been arrested once, for simple possession, but he had never been violent. The cops were saying it looked like a random killing. All street killings were random, her brother had said, but they all had a reason.

On one side of the courtroom was a table around which the authorities gathered. The cops whispered to the prosecutors, who flipped through files and reports and tried valiantly to keep the paperwork ahead of the criminals. On the other side was a table where the defense lawyers came and went as the assembly line sputtered along. Drug charges were rattled off by the Judge, an armed robbery, some vague sexual attack, more drugs, lots of parole violations. When their names were called, the defendants were led forward to the bench, where they stood in silence. Paperwork was shuffled, then they were hauled off again, back to jail.

"Tequila Watson," a bailiff announced.

He was helped to his feet by another bailiff. He stutter-stepped forward, chains rattling.

"Mr. Watson, you are charged with murder," the Judge announced loudly. "How old are you?"

"Twenty," Tequila said, looking down.

The murder charge had echoed through the courtroom and brought a temporary stillness. The other criminals in orange looked on with admiration. The lawyers and cops were curious.

"Can you afford a lawyer?"


"Didn't think so," the Judge mumbled and glanced at the defense table. The fertile fields of the D.C. Superior Court Criminal Division, Felony Branch, were worked on a daily basis by the Office of the Public Defender, the safety net for all indigent defendants. Seventy percent of the docket was handled by court-appointed counsel, and at any time there were usually half a dozen PDs milling around in cheap suits and battered loafers with files sticking out of their briefcases. At that precise moment, however, only one PD was present, the Honorable Clay Carter II, who had stopped by to check on two much lesser felonies, and now found himself all alone and wanting to bolt from the courtroom. He glanced to his right and to his left and realized that His Honor was looking at him. Where had all the other PDs gone?

A week earlier, Mr. Carter had finished a murder case, one that had lasted for almost three years and had finally been closed with his client being sent away to a prison from which he would never leave, at least not officially. Clay Carter was quite happy his client was now locked up, and he was relieved that he, at that moment, had no murder files on his desk.

That, evidently, was about to change.

"Mr. Carter?" the Judge said. It was not an order, but an invitation to step forward to do what every PD was expected to do—defend the indigent, regardless of the case. Mr. Carter could not show weakness, especially with the cops and prosecutors watching. He swallowed hard, refused to flinch, and walked to the bench as if he just might demand a jury trial right there and then. He took the file from the Judge, quickly skimmed its rather thin contents while ignoring the pleading look of Tequila Watson, then said, "We'll enter a plea of not guilty, Your Honor."

"Thank you, Mr. Carter. And we'll show you as counsel of record?"

"For now, yes." Mr. Carter was already plotting excuses to unload this case on someone else at OPD.

"Very well. Thank you," the Judge said, already reaching for the next file.

Lawyer and client huddled at the defense table for a few minutes. Carter took as much information as Tequila was willing to give, which was very little. He promised to stop by the jail the next day for a longer interview. As they whispered, the table was suddenly crowded with young lawyers from the PD's office, colleagues of Carter's who seemed to materialize from nowhere.

Was this a setup? Carter asked himself. Had they disappeared knowing a murder defendant was in the room? In the past five years, he'd pulled such stunts himself. Ducking the nasty ones was an art form at OPD.

He grabbed his briefcase and hurried away, down the center aisle, past rows of worried relatives, past Adelfa Pumphrey and her little support group, into the hallway crammed with many more criminals and their mommas and girlfriends and lawyers. There were those in OPD who swore they lived for the chaos of the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse—the pressure of trials, the hint of danger from people sharing the same space with so many violent men, the painful conflict between victims and their assailants, the hopelessly overcrowded dockets, the calling to protect the poor and ensure fair treatment by the cops and the system.

If Clay Carter had ever been attracted to a career in OPD, he could not now remember why. In one week the fifth anniversary of his employment there would come and go, without celebration, and, hopefully, without anyone knowing it. Clay was burned out at the age of thirty-one, stuck in an office he was ashamed to show his friends, looking for an exit with no place to go, and now saddled with another senseless murder case that was growing heavier by the minute.

In the elevator he cursed himself for getting nailed with a murder. It was a rookie's mistake; he'd been around much too long to step into the trap, especially one set on such familiar turf. I'm quitting, he promised himself; the same vow he had uttered almost every day for the past year.

There were two others in the elevator. One was a court clerk of some variety, with her arms full of files. The other was a fortyish gentleman dressed in designer black—jeans, T-shirt, jacket, alligator boots. He held a newspaper and appeared to be reading it through small glasses perched on the tip of his rather long and elegant nose; in fact, he was studying Clay, who was oblivious. Why would someone pay any attention to anyone else on this elevator in this building?

If Clay Carter had been alert instead of brooding, he would have noticed that the gentleman was too well dressed to be a defendant, but too casual to be a lawyer. He carried nothing but a newspaper, which was somewhat odd because the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse was not known as a place for reading. He did not appear to be a judge, a clerk, a victim, or a defendant, but Clay never noticed him.

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The King of Torts 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 349 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read, but could have called the outcome early. Little too much of a sappy love story. Written well but the story line is pretty cookie cutter.
Mysticbooks More than 1 year ago
This book will make a great gift .It is one John Grisham's best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book so long ago that I had forgotten most of it so I decided to read it again. I thoroughly enjoyed it this time, too.
Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
John Grisham always does such a good job of fleshing out characters. So much so that the protagonists have their faults and the antagonists seems plausible. Here, the main character, Clay, just didn't appeal to me at all. I seemed to be rooting against him. There was no one to root for. I know every book doesn't need those things but Grisham's novels usually do. Oh well, they all can't be gems.
MM45 More than 1 year ago
The King of Torts is one of those odd sort of books were the protagonist and antagonist are really the same person. We have all heard this story, good rather innocent man gets a taste of money and power, becomes corrupt, then seeks some sort of salvation. I found the book to be good "mind candy" and I would recommend it. Though not as good as other Grisham novels it does serve the general purpose of entertainment. 3 out 5 stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first Grishman's book I have read. When I first started reading the book, The King Of Torts by John Grisham, I thought it was going to be as boring and uninteresting book as there are so many, but I was wrong. John Grishman really get into the mood of writing this book. Clay Carter a lawyer that works at the Office of the Public Defender finally finds a way to get out of the cheap job he has, where he has work for more than five years, and finally form his own firm. He gets into a lot of trouble before getting what he wants. He takes the case of a young man charged with murder, which he assumes is just another random street killing. As he explores the history of Tequila, his client, he meets Max Pace, a man who reveals a hidden truth about a drug company that has been making a bad drug called Tarvan. Max offers Clay to help him silence the victims that had being use this drug paying them five million dollars. Clay takes the risk and trust Max. Max gave Clay fifteen million dollars for helping him silence the people. Later Max gives Clay more cases and helps him get his own firm. Clay turn into a successful tort lawyer in a short period of time. Clay soon finds himself rich and famous as the ¿King of Torts.¿ Later he starts to have some problems with the FBI and some of his cases were lost. He now he finds himself bankruptcy. As you read the novel you will find so many interesting things. I really recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Successful writer John Grisham dazzles readers in his novel, The King of Torts, where he makes a moving argument about how greed is, once again, man¿s tragedy. We¿re captured in the average life of thirty two year old Clay Carter, a lawyer providing free legal counsel to impecunious defendants at the Office of the Public Defender where he has worked for a consecutive five years, and dreams of one day working in a real firm. He reluctantly takes the case of a young man charged with murder, which he assumes is just another random street killing. As explores the history of his client, however, Clay meets Max Pace, a man who reveals a hidden truth about a giant pharmaceutical company that has been testing anti-addiction medication on drug addicts. Even though the drug showed hopeful results, a small percentage of the users turned homicidal including Clay¿s client. Max offers Clay a deal: to help silence the victim¿s families with five million dollar settlements given by Max¿s employer and if the job is done successfully, Clay would receive fifteen million dollars. Tantalized by the offer of a new future, Clay agrees thinking he does not have much to lose. The job is a complete success and Clay begins his own firm. As time progresses, Pace provides new information and new cases helping Clay turn into a successful tort lawyer in a short period of time. Clay soon finds himself rich and famous as the ¿King of Torts.¿ Tort lawyers are attorneys that file large class action suits that bring massive payouts from corporations however, very little money goes to the plaintiffs but huge amounts go to the lawyers who represent them. Grisham depicts tort lawyers as vultures interested only in increasing personal fortunes as they drive corporations into bankruptcy. As you get deeper into the novel, you tumble down the spiral of greed, financial woes, and looming disaster, tempting you to read until the bitter end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was in ottawa for vacation this past week and i just happened to pass a bookstore. I was choosing books when i happened to come across this book. It was fantastic!! I couldn't put it down if my life depended on it. I read it all in the bookstore and then brought it and re-read it. The plot and the story were all very well written. John Grisham is still the king of the courts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I never got my law degree - and had to settle for my Master of Arts in Political Science and a Masters of Science in Hotel & Food Service Management - I have been obsessed with legal thrillers! Why? The degrees I received had enough 'pre-law' type courses to whet my appetite for the legal profession. KING OF TORTS takes on the hottest topic in the United States today - the law and the unbelievable amount of 'class action suits' and money to be made - much of it for lawyers; with clients expecting their fact share! YOU - believe it or not may PERSONALLY be confronted by a class action suit - sooner than you think ! A MUST READ *****+
readingwithtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maybe it¿s because I¿ve read some ¿high class¿ literature now (although I¿m still hardly ¿well-read¿), but some of this novel felt shallow and predictable. It was obvious from the minute J Clay Carter II (I still can¿t believe what some parents inflict upon their children) started to make astronomical amounts of money that at some point it would all fall apart.Enthralling, fun and the right thing happens in the end.It feels like heresy to categorise John Grisham as "fluff", but really...
DocWalt10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found myself fully involved in the book. Grisham's development of the characters keeps you emotional involved. I found myself getting really mad, at the greed of Clay Carter. But also sympathetic, to how he got swept up in the emotions of the money and power it brought.
bookheaven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pretty boring but it gets better at the end.
JBD1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Meh. Typical Grisham, takes about two hours to read.
polutropos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Greed kills. Another first-rate Grisham, satisfying from beginning to end.
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
John Grisham offers another legal thriller in "The King of Torts." Like several of his previous efforts, this one features a young lawyer thrust into a legal scene beyond his years and experience. Unlike previous books, the setting for this one is the big money, high-stakes arena of large class-action suits, set in the nation's capital.Overworked and underpaid DC public defender Clay Carter finds himself assigned to defend an alleged murderer who is almost assuredly guilty. In the course of investigating the background of his new client, however, Carter asks questions that a high-powered, and unnamed, pharmaceutical company hopes to bury.In this intrigue, Carter is given the means and the information to arrange a small class-action settlement, worth millions of dollars, provided he opens his own firm, specializing in such lawsuits. This he does with aplomb, spending lavishly to present himself as such a lawyer, including hiring dozens of lawyers to investigate and pursue new cases. In short order, Carter finds himself fabulously wealthy and in way over his head.Like Grisham's best work, the legal components are smart and gripping, if a tad far-fetched. Unfortunately, there is also a subplot of romantic entanglements with two women that strains credulity and feels forced. It's not good when certain relationships between Carter and his close associates seem warmer and more loving in a few sentences spread throughout the novel then the purported romances which stretch for pages.That criticism aside, the novel clearly falls under the category of "good Grisham": tightly paced, exciting, surprising at points, with an adequate conclusion.
harpua on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first Grisham book I've read. I just never envisioned myself as reading Grisham, however, when I picked up a dozen Grisham books cheap at a thrift store, I thought I might as well give one a try. This one was pulled at random from the pile so I'm not sure if I picked a good one to start with or not, but overall I was pleasantly surprised. It held my interest long enough to finish and it wasn't much of a chore to get through. Not really my style of book, but I'll be back to try more Grisham in the future.On to the story. This was a novel that got me emotionally involved unlike many.....and I'm not really sure why. I was rooting for the main character, yet hated him as well. It fascinated me to see how the class action lawyers functioned (if it really functions like this) and yet how dirty the whole process was. Grisham really spun a tale that brought to light the seedy side of law and the greed that sudden masses of money can bring. For the most part this was well plotted, yet a few threads were left hanging and the novel just seemed to wrap up too quickly and cleanly.Not too bad thought and an enjoyable read, so I'll try some Grisham again in the future.
Livana on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A solid John Grisham book. I made the mistake of reading this one and "The Street Lawyer" back-to-back, and because Grisham's books are all based on lawyer stories, I get them both confused!The story is good. The main character is not very sympathetic. I never rooted for him and was a little disappointed about the end. But overall, an enjoyable read.
MsBeautiful on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Avg. legal thriller, not his best
drjhkellogg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another good one from Grisham.
es135 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once again, John Grisham makes the normally dry/tedious genre of legal fiction into an inventive and thrilling read. I was surprised by the amount of insight given to the profession of a tort lawyer. This one will probably divide readers, the whole conspiracy can be kind of unbelievable, but I was completely entertained.
ini_ya on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not a thriller. But very interesting.
jrtanworth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The plot is rather predictable and the characters not very carefully developed. The book is worth reading however for its description of the class action tort process. I thought about it again today when a settlement was announced for the 10,000 9/11 cleanup workers possibly affected by the toxic dust and debris they came into contact with or breathed.
FolkeB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Grisham completes another thrilling legal work of non-fiction with his 2003 novel, The King of Torts. Clay Carter is a defense lawyer who works for the Office of Public Defender (OPD), in Washington D.C. While his dream has always been to work for a major law firm, he is restricted to serving as criminals who cannot afford their own lawyers. He gets stuck with a seemingly routine murder trial of a black teen. However, Clay gets a mysterious phone call from a Max Pace who claims that he can easily make Clay millions of dollars. It turns out that the murderer was under the influence of a pharmaceutical drug that has been causing violent outbursts around the country. Pace claims that his company will pay Clay $10 million if he can get all the victims to settle at $5 million a piece. After this has successfully been completed, Pace gives Clay another assignment; a case worth millions of dollars based on evidence, that unknown to Clay, was stolen. This novel gives clever and creative insight to a relatively unknown branch of law: mass tort cases. Grisham cleverly weaves an intricate web of fact and fiction, that captures the readers attention and refuses to let go. Michael
KendraRenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
well-written. this guy is good at plot, very good.
Jarratt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm anti big government, but I gotta give the Georgia Public Library system props for providing audio books online which is how I "read" this book. It'd been a while since I'd read Grisham and I enjoyed "The King of Torts." The way Grisham takes his main character, J. Clay Carter, from a desperate lawyer with DC¿s Office of Public Defenders representing crackheads and thieves to extreme success in mass tort litigation was quite good. There¿s a fine line between an attorney doing what¿s best for his clients and one who¿s pushing the envelope of what¿s right or fair based on his fees. And Clay falls right into that trap.I wasn¿t so taken with the love interest subplot as it seemed rather tacked on to add the ¿romantic¿ element to the story. But that¿s not enough of a reason to bypass this book. Read it. You¿ll enjoy it!