With Big Money flooding into politics and overseas into the tax havens of Luxembourg, Panama, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas, Americans are becoming inured to corruption. If a United States Senator is shown to have received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from lobbyists for an industry his votes support, we shrug. It’s only natural. Still, when a sitting judge is found to be accepting bribes to convict someone falsely accused or acquit someone else who’s demonstrably guilty, we feel a little more of our faith in democracy slipping away. Somehow, in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary, we Americans still tend to feel confident in the soundness of our courts.
A whistle-blower on judicial corruption
In The Whistler, John Grisham toys with this belief in a tale of “the most corrupt judge in American history.” It’s all fiction, of course. Sadly, though, it’s entirely credible. A clever criminal gang settles in the Florida Panhandle, buys a circuit court judge and other local officials, and teams up with greedy leaders on a small Indian reservation. With all this firepower behind them, the gang maneuvers through the legal system to build a huge casino and hundreds of millions of dollars of housing and small businesses all around the region.
The Whistler (Lacy Stolz #1) by John Grisham (2016) 470 pages ★★★★☆
For years, millions flow into the pockets of the judge, the leadership on the reservation, and — in much larger volumes — the coffers of the gang. Then a disbarred lawyer, an ex-con, surfaces at the Florida Board of Judicial Review to bring a complaint about the judge on behalf of an anonymous whistle-blower. The investigation that ensues steadily broadens to include the tribal police, local police in Florida and Alabama, and ultimately the FBI.
A police procedural writ large
If you’re familiar with John Grisham’s work, it’s likely you would expect The Whistler to be filled with twists, turns, and surprising betrayals around every corner. This novel doesn’t fit that mold. It’s a police procedural writ large, following the investigation of the judge and the gang from beginning to end in considerable detail. There’s violence, some of it graphic, but this is not a crime thriller crammed with serial killers and mangled corpses. The Whistler is, instead, a gripping story that’s satisfying to the end. It’s another example of the remarkable range of John Grisham’s writing talent.
For related reading
I’ve reviewed the second of the Lacy Stolz thrillers as well: The Judge’s List (Lacy Stolz #2) (John Grisham’s new legal thriller about a judge). And you’ll find numerous other reviews of John Grisham’s books on this site by searching his name on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page.
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And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, on the Home Page.