The Rainmaker by John Grisham. Century $150 HERE'S another John Grisham written to his regular formula. He writes a book every 12 months or so and with this latest thriller, the writer of The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client and last year The Chamber has produced a story which goes straight from A to Z without messing around with anything else in between. From page one, you know what to expect. From page two, the linear plot and all those little tricks of the Grisham trade begin to irritate, like an itch you can't reach. The Rainmaker is nothing more than a story. Not a bad one, but far from a brilliant one. There are no themes and no characters. The closest Grisham gets to making a point, or indeed to any degree of healthy cynicism, is to say lawyers are overpaid. This is hardly a revelation. If lawyers earned the same salaries as schoolteachers, there would be no lawyers. If the general public got sick and tired of a courtroom drama, there would be no John Grisham. But the public loves John Grisham, though it's getting harder to see the appeal. After all, The Rainmaker has all been done before, mostly by Grisham himself. The protagonist, fresh out of law school and without a bread-and-butter damages case to his name, is a male version of the young law student heroine in The Pelican Brief. He is thrown, as she was, into the midst of events that are improbable and implausible, but which are moulded into a convenient small guy versus scumbag corporation ding-dong. Grisham tries to be negative about the job of lawyering but his adoration of the profession shines from every page. Did he have to dedicate the book to 'American trial lawyers'? When The Rainmaker - lawyer jargon for a partner who brings home the bacon - begins to make big bucks, he buys a Volvo and a car phone and says: 'Rudy Baylor is slowly arriving.' Baylor is meant to be an amiable David taking on a contemptible Goliath, an insurance company which has diddled a dying man out of his policy dues. But lines like that only serve to make you see him for the twit he is. When, through no fault of his own, he loses two jobs with big firms, it's enough to make you happy. The events that conspire to shape Baylor, and our story, are straight from the same bag of tricks, Grisham dipped into for The Pelican Brief and the rest. Take a sharp intake of breath, because this is the kind of plot that deserves one. Rudy is studying for the bar when he visits a nursing home with his professor for a class on law and the elderly. There, he meets a woman with millions to dispose of in her will and a poor couple whose son has leukaemia and whose insurance company, Great Benefit, refuses to cough up the readies. Later, when Rudy loses his job with Trent & Brent (read Sue, Grabbit & Runne), he takes the Great Benefit case with him into his own small firm. He is the prosecutor. The defending law firm, for dramatic purposes, is the ghastly Trent & Brent. It's showdown time at the Memphis courthouse. Guess who wins? There is more to The Rainmaker than this, but not much. There's Rudy's girl, for instance, whom he meets while ambulance-chasing at the local hospital. She is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, (another role for Julia Pelican Brief Roberts perhaps?), and he is just the man to handle her divorce. The thorn in both their sides is her husband, a ball-playing, beer-swilling son of a gun from the wrong side of the tracks. Potential holes in the plot are hastily papered over. The Great Benefit case is central to the book, in fact without it there is nothing, so Grisham fast-tracks it so he doesn't face the job of making the book span the two or three years it usually takes to get to trial. Fast-tracking, he explains in an awkward aside (interestingly, about the only time he deviates from the straight line of his narrative) is designed to bring certain cases to trial quicker than others. Which is convenient for Grisham and convenient for us, because without it there would have been another 200 pages of The Rainmaker. Grisham seems to have exhausted his repertoire, but that is not to write him off. Proof of his ability as a doyen of popular fiction will come with his next book. If he can find a more credible story, and add the kind of depth to his characters that John le Carre does to his, Grisham may yet prevail. Until then, he'll be judged by this latest work: as easy to forget as to read.