Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #100: The Racketeer by John Grisham
I had mixed feelings about this one. To be honest, I have loved the majority of Grisham’s novels, and thought this would be another in his respected series of intense political/legal thrillers. To my surprise and initial delight, The Racketeer is a fun ride. It is written mostly as a first-person narrative by black disbarred lawyer Malcolm Bannister, who is half-way through a 10-year jail term he didn’t deserve, has already lost his wife to divorce and young son to a new stepfather, and is desperate to get out. Malcolm is smart, savvy, and has a sense of humor which seasons his narrative. Before many pages into the novel, we discover that a federal judge and his lover have been robbed and murdered, and that Malcolm knows the killer and is willing to barter his knowledge to the clueless FBI in exchange for a get-out-of-jail-free card. The deal is struck, the suspect is apprehended, confesses, is indicted, and Malcolm is whisked out of jail, given a new identity and face, and allowed to go his merry way.
This is where the story gets interesting, because Malcolm is not a jailhouse snitch and all is not as it seems. Rather, he has forged a clever–and ruthless–plot to get his revenge on the system that destroyed his former life. The story rapidly fills up with characters and complicated scenarios which require a careful eye to keep track of. Grisham’s talent is in keeping the reader fooled along with Malcolm’s targets, but his weakness—in this novel at least—is in offering us plot twists and characters which are so improbable as to be almost laughable. For example, girlfriend Vanessa appears somewhere along the way, virtually from thin air, and yet becomes an integral accomplice in the plot which our “hero” hatched at least two years earlier. Malcolm takes a thousand and one risks to make his revenge a success, and yet manages to sail through each without a hiccup. In the real world, he would have been back in jail before the novel hit its half-way mark. And Malcolm himself has somehow morphed from the simple, honest, even naïve attorney who got caught in a spider’s web at the beginning of the story, to a slick operator who knows his way around drugs, guns, fake identities, gold traders, money launderers, the film industry, and more. It is almost like the world suddenly becomes Malcolm’s plaything, and everything easily bends to his will.
In fact, things are so well-oiled for Malcolm that I almost found myself hoping that he himself was the judge-killer the FBI was searching for, just to throw a well-deserved kink into the too-slick story line. Alas, that was not to be. Don’t get me wrong. I was happily entertained with this fast-paced and cleverly-conceived, or should I say fast-conceived and cleverly-paced, novel. Just the sort of thing that Hollywood loves to churn out with big-name draws to cover for lack of depth. And, to be fair, Grisham did end his novel with a reference to the sort of corporate corruption that has become his bread-and-butter of late. Still and all, for the most part a forgettable story. I can only hope that Grisham takes a little more time with his next one, and gives his readership something more solid to bite into.