Essentially, "The Racketeer" is a return to form for John
Grisham. Longtime Grisham fans will be pleased with the new work;
everyone else will wonder what the fuss is about.
Like many novels in the tall family tree of Grisham works, "The Racketeer" is a legal thriller. Malcolm Bannister is a disgraced attorney serving a long sentence in a federal prison. When a judge and his girlfriend are murdered, however, Bannister reveals that he knows who committed the crime and begins negotiating with federal authorities for his release.
In Grisham's hands, this includes betrayals, breathless conversations, switched identities and narrow escapes. Never have negotiations with the feds been so much fun.
And the novel, in a sense, is fun. Unlike a few of Grisham's previous "courtroom dramas," in which readers are supposed to gasp in surprise at an unexpected objection or white knuckle their way through a meeting at the bench, "The Racketeer" moves away from the legalese that occasionally marred Grisham's other works and instead focuses on the intrigue.
That's not to say "The Racketeer" is perfect; it is, after all, a straightforward thriller, and, as a result, the usual problems occur, including one long chapter toward the end of the book that literally explains everything. The characterization is hollow for everyone not named Malcolm Bannister, and Bannister himself is unlikable, often smug. By the end of the novel, it was a stretch to find anything pleasant in Bannister's legal maneuverings; instead, it was far easier to hope that he would end up in prison again.
Despite these flaws - and less face it, poor characterization is unfortunately a hallmark of a lot of thrillers out there - "The Racketeer" is an enjoyable return to form for Grisham.
Jason Barr is a teacher in Harrisonburg.
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