The Client (novel)

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The Client
The Client novel.jpg
Author John Grisham
Publication date

The Client (1993) is a legal thriller written by American author John Grisham, set mostly in Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana. It is Grisham's fourth novel.


The Client begins with an eleven-year old boy, Mark Sway and his younger brother Ricky, who is eight, going into the woods near the Tucker Wheel Estates, a mobile home park where they live with their mother, Dianne. Ricky had earlier caught Mark with some cigarettes and now to keep Ricky's silence, Mark is going to teach Ricky how to smoke. While they are in the woods, a shiny black 4-door Lincoln (a black 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham in the film) arrives, and soon W. Jerome "Romey" Clifford, a 44-year old lawyer from New Orleans, Louisiana, gets out of the car. His only client at the moment is Barry "The Blade" Muldanno, and now here in the woods of northeast Memphis, Tennessee, he is attempting to commit suicide. Mark and Ricky Sway sit hidden from Clifford and watching him from behind the shiny black car. Clifford, noticeably drunk, puts one end of a garden hose in the exhaust pipe of the car and the other end into a rear passenger window, and rolls up the window, trying to kill himself with carbon monoxide poisoning. Mark, sneaks up, crawling on his stomach, and pulls the hose from the exhaust trying to stop him. After some time Clifford gets out of the car, cursing, and puts the hose back in. Mark repeats pulling the hose from the tailpipe. On the third attempt, Clifford sees the grass moving in the rear view mirror, leaps from the car grabs Mark and pushes him into the car. Jerome then tells Mark why he wants to kill himself, he is convinced that Muldanno is going to murder him anyway and wants to die on his own terms. Clifford is defending Muldanno for the murder of U.S. Senator Boyd Boyette. But the prosecutors, led by the "Reverend" (for his preaching style in court) Roy Foltrigg, don't have a body. Muldanno had previously told Clifford that he buried the body in concrete in Clifford's detached garage, under a boat, while Clifford was on vacation, skiing in Colorado. In the car, Clifford keeps drinking Jack Daniels, and taking dalmane and codeine. After a while, the effects of the booze and pills start to make Clifford pass out and Mark manages to escape. After Clifford realizes this and attempts to go after Mark, he looks around but soon gives up and slides up on the trunk of the car, puts a .38 Special pistol in his mouth, and shoots himself.

Upon witnessing the suicide, Ricky, Mark's younger brother, goes into shock. Mark calls the police and is later found at the scene. Police and the FBI discover that Mark was in the car and may have spoken with Clifford. Clifford knew where the body was buried so the FBI is determined to question Mark about it. Mark hires a lawyer named Regina "Reggie" Love to help him. Barry the Blade's people burn Mark's trailer and threaten him, leaving him reluctant to tell the FBI what he knows.

Mark is placed in juvenile lock-up (partly to protect him, partly to make him talk) but manages to escape, and he and Reggie go to New Orleans to confirm that the body is located where Romey said it was. While approaching the area they expect the corpse to be, the boy and his lawyer observe some Mafia henchmen trying to relocate it. Mark throws rocks at a neighbor's house, breaking a window, and the neighbor emerges with a shotgun, scaring the men off. Mark and Reggie hide in the woods until they are sure the neighbor is back asleep, then re-approach and the find the body, seeing the decaying face of Senator Boyette. Reggie makes a deal with Foltrig enabling Mark and his family to enter the United States Federal Witness Protection Program in exchange for telling the FBI where the body is. The Sway family flies to a revered hospital in Phoenix to tend to Ricky's condition and Mark and Reggie bid farewell.


Reggie Love: A female lawyer who has been practicing for five years. Her original name is Regina Cardoni. She divorced her husband and spent time recovering from a nervous breakdown before becoming an attorney. She was a former active alcoholic. She is an older woman in the novel, but the movie incarnation played by Susan Sarandon is slightly younger.

Barry Muldanno: Mafia member who is accused of killing a senator. A cold-blooded man, he plans on killing eleven-year old Mark.

Roy Foltrigg: U.S. government lawyer whose job is to prove that Barry Muldanno killed the senator. He tries everything to make Mark talk and at the end he proposes to take Mark to court in New Orleans where he was sure that they could make him talk. He is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Louisiana.

Slick Moeller: A crime reporter who works on the Memphis Press. His real name is actually Alfred but nobody in the book knows this. He never names a person who trusted him with information and he knows everything about every crime committed, even before the cops.

Paul Gronke: A close associate of Barry Muldanno. He is a tough thug, but not a killer like Barry Muldanno.

Mac Bono: A close associate of the Sulari family. He is a convicted murderer and participates in the search for Mark Sway.

Gary Pirini: A close associate of the Sulari family. He participates in the search for Mark Sway.

Jack Nance and Calvin "Cal" Sisson: So-called "security specialists", they are actually thugs who do dirty work for the people who pay them. They are hired by Paul Gronke to help them for the search of Mark Sway.

Thomas Fink: An assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Louisiana. He argued a case before the Tennessee juvenile court to have Mark placed in the juvenile detention center.

George Ord: U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. He helped Thomas Fink argue the case to have Mark placed on the juvenile detention center.

Dr. Greenway: The doctor that attempts to cure Ricky of his coma.

Clint Van Hooser: Secretary to Reggie Love, he was a former drug abuser.

Harry Roosevelt: A judge of the Tennessee Juvenile Court. He tries to protect children since he was a neglected child himself when he was a boy.

Johnny Sulari: Boss of the Sulari family. An aging gangster, he nonetheless rules with an iron fist. Uncle of Barry Muldanno.

Jerome Clifford: A very important lawyer. His client was Barry Muldano. Committed suicide at the beginning, witnessed by Mark and Ricky.

Chester Tanfill: President of Ark-Lon Fixtures. Work place of Dianne Sway.


A 1994 film based on the novel was directed by Joel Schumacher and starred Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, Mary-Louise Parker and newcomer Brad Renfro. The film was released on July 20, 1994.

For her work in the film, Susan Sarandon was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and won a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role .

The film was so successful that it spawned a TV series of the same name,[1] starring JoBeth Williams and John Heard. It ran for one season (1995–1996).