John Grisham on diploma mills, student loans, and ICE

The Rooster Bar by John GrishamThe Rooster Bar by John GrishamThe Rooster Bar by John Grisham

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

John Grisham‘s latest legal thriller follows a familiar pattern. The Rooster Bar is a suspenseful tale of resourceful young people who face off against seemingly untouchable forces. So far, so good. But the book is more than that. Grisham uses the opportunity to crusade against some of the social ills that clearly irk him. In this case, he weighs in against diploma mills, backbreaking student loans, and the excesses of ICE. (That’s the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security, just in case you didn’t know.) As a thriller, The Rooster Bar works well, as do all of Grisham’s workmanlike novels. As social criticism, it’s even more powerful.

Four young college graduates are enrolled in the Foggy Bottom Law School, a diploma mill in the shadows of Washington’s far more prominent institutions, the law schools at Georgetown, George Washington, and American Universities. Nearing graduation, the four friends collectively owe a total of more than $800,000 in student loans, nearly all of it in the form of lavish government payments to Foggy Bottom that are making the school’s owner richer all the time. Their legal education is spotty at best; the faculty represents the dregs of the legal profession. And the students know full well that the chances they’ll pass the bar are perhaps 50-50. Their dreams of securing lucrative jobs at top DC law firms now clearly seem to be fantasies. Their hopes of repaying the money they owe seem equally unlikely.

So, what is to be done? Well, three of them come up with an innovative if illegal answer to that question. The action that unfolds is both amusing and suspenseful. Unsurprisingly, as in some of Grisham’s early novels, the story proves that crime does pay. If you’ve read Grisham before, you’ll know that’s not a spoiler. The fun lies in learning how it all works out.

Just one word of caution: don’t read John Grisham’s novels to acquire a legal education. As he writes in an author’s note to The Rooster Bar, “As usual, I played fast and loose with reality, especially the legal stuff. Laws, courthouses, procedures, statutes, firms, judges and their courtrooms, lawyers and their habits, all have been fictionalized at will to suit the story.”

Over the years, I’ve read a great number of John Grisham’s books. Most recently, I reviewed Camino Island at A daring heist, a frustrated novelist, and the ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Earlier, I commented on The Confession (Why do so many people buy John Grisham’s books?), The Litigators (Get this: John Grisham’s latest novel is funny), The Racketeer (Another fiendishly clever John Grisham novel), Sycamore Row (The belated sequel to John Grishams breakthrough first novel), Gray Mountain (John Grisham vs. Big Coal), Rogue Lawyer (American police come off badly in John Grisham’s latest novel), and The Whistler (John Grisham takes on judicial corruption). You might also like to take a look at 48 excellent mystery and thriller series.

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Mal Warwick