Christmas is almost upon us, a festive season most unlike prior celebrations. The pandemic has brought a different milieu. This list includes another Grisham, his bestselling A Time for Mercy. This is the third instalment in his Jake Brigance series. Grisham has been making serials of late. This year alone, he’s produced Camino Winds and Mercy. Phantom by Jo Nesbo is next. After hanging onto the Nesbo, I just thought the time was right to tick this off my inventory. A Life in Parts forms the third leg of the tripod. Master actor Bryan Cranston pens this edition’s de rigueur nonfiction title.
- A Time for Mercy (Grisham). I admit that I haven’t read the previous two books in the series, though I’ve seen the first on screen. I noted that this series is about racial tensions in the South. Brigance is a defence attorney helping the indigent. He has represented Carl Hailey, a convicted black murderer. The latter was acquitted. In this edition, he gets a job nobody wants: to save a cop killer. Drew Gamble, sixteen, is indicted on the murder of Stuart Kofer, a sheriff’s deputy in Clanton. Kofer came home intoxicated and left the mother, Josie Gamble, unconscious. The Gambles (Drew, Josie, and Keira) are all revealed to be victims of abuse.
The whole town has passed their judgment on Drew. Jake courts their ire, though he has little say in the matter. Brigance’s career suffers as a result of taking the Gamble case. Instead of a multimillion-dollar settlement on another case, he is staring at a lengthy wait for a trial. His office also gets far fewer cases. However, he has the support of a strong team. In his corner is his wife, Carla and his assistant, Portia. His old buddy, Harry Rex, reassures him while Lucien Wilbanks remains his mentor. This is by far the toughest lawsuit he’s faced as all evidence points to Drew.
His client is detained in the county jail. He’s had a trouble life and has attended too many different schools. The Gambles find some allies in The Good Shepherd Bible Church, where Pastor McGarry welcomed them with open arms. The killing is the talk of the town and the source of news. There is a lot of build-up before the trial. The jury manoeuvring and selection alone was good for a few chapters. Furthermore, Grisham makes sure to add a touch of drama. This twist will definitely impact on the outcome and change the complexion of the plot. While this is rated highly, I admit that it’s not his best work. The pacing of this one and the opening murder scene were reminiscent of The Reckoning (2018). However, Jake’s family life and his altruism are breaths of fresh air. Familiarity with the setting and characters are also helpful. Overall, a more challenging Grisham read sprinkled with his trademark suspense.
- Phantom (Nesbo). This is the ninth book in the Harry Hole series and the seventh I’ve finished this year. The story deals with the murder of Gusto Hanssen, an ambitious peddler who sells the best stuff. Oleg Fauke, Harry’s foster son, is charged with his slaying. This impels Harry to return to Oslo. He was previously living in Hong Kong. Hole is not even on the force for all of this book, but he takes it upon himself to solve such a personal crime. There is the usual battle with the bottle, which he manages to curb for the most part. He realises that Oleg has grown up and turned over to the dark side.
The new rave
Harry learns that a certain Dubai holds the cards. He was so named after the Arsenal jerseys (his peddlers), of which Emirates is a major sponsor. Apparently, they’re selling this new craze called violin. For a while, Oleg and Gusto work for the old man. Being selfish hypes, they decide to emancipate from their boss and deal with the manufacturer directly. In particular, Gusto would stop at nothing to get his fix. No one is untouchable for him in his quest to get high. In the meantime, the force has made headlines for curtailing the drug trade in central Oslo. However, ‘Looks are deceiving.’ While the coast is clear, this has ensured that a couple of organisations have thrived. While some substances have been eliminated, violin use has climbed. We learn that not only airline pilots are crooked, but also law enforcement and high-ranking government officials.
A man of lists
The plot shifts between the regular narrator and thoughts from Gusto. The extensive use of lists is one thing I notice about Nesbo. Every few pages, there’s an index of items. Harry attempts to depart for Hong Kong a few times, but comically backtracks while almost leaving. As usual, Harry is being hunted. His work on the baddies is rewarded with a bull’s eye from his former colleagues. Indeed, he has to ‘borrow’ a passport. Looking at him, he is worse for wear. He has a bad neck wound and his suit is grimy. He stays at the Hotel Leon, a shabby inn where he meets Cato, a reverend hiding a dark secret. Cato appears like the voice of reason but is actually a closeted killer. As always, there is a massive twist near the end, a paradigm shift. Nesbo is a master storyteller, but I am no fan of those lists.
- A Life in Parts (Bryan Cranston). In this memoir, the Breaking Bad actor talks about the many hats he’s worn over his lifetime. For instance, he relates on his being the son of an ambitious thespian. He tackles his parents’ divorce when he was eleven and how this affected his mum. He likewise reveals how he and his brother worked as farmhands, fetching eggs and beheading chickens. He shares about how his brother travelled the world, making him follow in his path. He chronicles his cross-country road trip with his brother, sleeping under the stars, and growing a beard. He decided to become an actor on said sojourn, while stranded in the rain. We are given a look into his acting classes.
Of course, Bryan reveals his roles and his biggest challenges. Early on, he had a recurring role in a daytime drama. He was part of a police drama where the crew did not know what they were doing. He quitted soon enough. He was in one episode of The X-Files, where he met Vince Gilligan – creator of Breaking Bad. He also appeared as an antagonising dentist in six episodes of Seinfeld. For the most part, he was cast in small roles, but he never gave up hope. Malcolm in the middle was his big break. He played the father, where he showcased his eccentricities. The comedy ran for seven seasons and Cranston earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for his trouble.
Acclaim and accolades
His performance on Breaking Bad was one of the greatest captured on telly. He knew right away that this would be his moment. Upon reading the script, he never longed for a role more. He proceeded to become one of the show’s producers. He likewise went on to win a slew of awards along the way. He talks about art imitating life. When he is seeing Jesse’s girlfriend on the brink of death, he is thinking of his own daughter. He admits that good directors would give some actors leeway in their portrayals and dialogue. He feels that his progress on the show has given him a voice.
He discusses staying in character and giving praise where it is due. In addition, he describes the feeling of celebrity status, where you could not please everyone. He even explores his relationships with fellow stars, including his Breaking castmates. He confesses that fame is a bonus and is not the main goal of acting. After his career-defining role, he also downplays money as the main driver of roles. He intersperses musings on his wife and child, both actors, and how they make him proud. Cranston’s format is quite unique and there’s no doubting his storytelling prowess. This is an easy read from an acting maestro.