When you’re reading somebody’s 25th novel — the 31st of all the books he’s written — you’d be right to expect that he’d gotten the hang of writing. Especially if the guy had already sold more than a quarter of a billion copies of his work. And so it is with John Grisham‘s fiendishly clever new novel, The Racketeer. It’s another winner from a man who’s been turning them out for more than two decades.
One aspect of Grisham’s fiendishness is his capacity to surprise, not just with twists and turns of plot — he’s great at that — but also by switching gears emotionally. For example, his most recent crime story before The Racketeer was The Litigators. That was a very funny book. The Racketeer isn’t (unless you have a tendency to cackle whenever a crook outsmarts the FBI). Grisham’s spare, no-nonsense style varies little, but he has a rare gift to make the most improbable characters both credible and likable. But no matter how sly and underhanded, his leading characters are almost always guys (or gals) in white hats.
The Racketeer by John Grisham ★★★★☆
Malcolm Bannister is Grisham’s protagonist here. Bannister is a hapless small-town attorney in Virginia who seems to have lost his white hat. He’s about halfway through an unjustified ten-year sentence in the Federal pen for violating the RICO act — yet another brilliant example of the FBI’s manipulation of that misbegotten law. He is 43, a former Marine, African-American, and wicked smart. Oh, and has he got a yen to get even with the FBI!
Suffice it to say that, at the outset, this book’s title is ironic. By the end it’s anything but ironic. And all the fun lies in how Bannister gets there. If you can guess how he does it before the plot fully unfolds, you’re a better person than me.
By the way, another of Grisham’s tendencies is to show off his liberal, reformist side, and The Racketeer is no different in that respect. Here, he takes on the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Prepare to be horrified.
I’ve previously reviewed The Litigators and The Confession.
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