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Book Review – The Racketeer by John Grisham

The Racketeer by John Grisham

Book Description:

Given the importance of what they do, and the controversies that often surround them, and the violent people they sometimes confront, it is remarkable that in the history of this country only four active federal judges have been murdered.

Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five.

Who is the Racketeer? And what does he have to do with the judge’s untimely demise? His name, for the moment, is Malcolm Bannister. Job status? Former attorney. Current residence? The Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

On paper, Malcolm’s situation isn’t looking too good these days, but he’s got an ace up his sleeve. He knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and he knows why. The judge’s body was found in his remote lakeside cabin. There was no forced entry, no struggle, just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.

What was in the safe? The FBI would love to know. And Malcolm Bannister would love to tell them. But everything has a price — especially information as explosive as the sequence of events that led to Judge Fawcett’s death. And the Racketeer wasn’t born yesterday . . .

Nothing is as it seems and everything’s fair game in this wickedly clever new novel from John Grisham, the undisputed master of the legal thriller.

*

Okay, how did The Racketeer end up one of Amazon’s mystery/thriller Best Books of the Month picks for October 2012? Must’ve been a lean month or maybe they were judging it by the first half of the book (which was great) and ignored how things went downhill in the second half? I don’t get it. I was so annoyed I wanted to chuck my copy out the window by the time I was done…

The Racketeer introduces the main character, Malcolm Bannister, to us as this 43 y/o black lawyer who is halfway through his ten-year sentence for racketeering. Malcolm explains that he is innocent and reveals the circumstances behind his unjust incarceration. He’s lost his wife to divorce and missed out on his son’s growing up years. Malcolm came across as a disillusioned (ex-idealistic) good & honest guy, so I was really rooting for him when Malcolm reveals that he has a final card to play in his bid for freedom.

Here’s the situation: a federal judge is found murdered –  the FBI is stumped, no leads, no suspects – but guess what, Malcolm just happens to know who did it, and why. Malcolm is willing to name names BUT only for the right price (aka his freedom). Like I said, it’s a GREAT start. There’s suspense, excitement, I’m devouring pages, hoping Malcolm gets some redemption, marveling at how clever he is….  and had things stayed the course, I would have declared The Racketeer one of John Grisham’s best legal thrillers to date.

But. And that’s a big BUT.

But in the second half, John Grisham pulls the rug out from under us. I don’t want to spoil things, so I won’t go into details, but apparently, much of what we’d been told earlier by Malcolm ranged from half-truths to lies.  Needless to say, I was pretty much pissed off for much of the second half of The Racketeer (hence, wanting to throw my copy out the window). The plot changes were so bizarre and came out of left-field. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know the main character anymore – Malcolm was turning out the opposite of who he claimed to be, and was off stalking this new character we’d never heard of, and unbelievably, the ‘love of his life’ pops up too (a woman who was barely mentioned in the first half, nary a hint that there was anything more between them other than some flirting). The ending was something out of Wild Things (the movie) mashed with The Sting (the movie). Bizarre, just bizarre.

Malcolm may have sailed off into the sunset much like Neve Campbell’s character in Wild Things, but as far as I was concerned, he’d turned from hero to zero. Good riddance to him. And good riddance to this book too – word of advice, don’t bother.

The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday) is available on Amazon, B&N, Apple iBooks, Book Depository

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