John Grisham is one of my favourite crime authors, second only to James Patterson. He has his formula but manages to churn a different tale using same said formula most every time.
The Racketeer starts out in the usual Grisham flair, lawyer and his legal woes but soon pans out into something much more, for the most part.
Malcolm Bannister, said lawyer, is spending time in a Federal Prison; “the camp” near Frostburg Maryland, for racketeering charges after getting caught in the cross webs of a famous crook known as the Backhandler but Bannister is more a victim of his own naiveté. Life in the camp is a breeze; Malcolm is able to sharpen his skills, as much as prison would allow him, and uses such skills to help other prisoners; reviewing their cases and in some cases cutting their jail time. Being the prison librarian makes it all the more feasible for Malcolm to enjoy certain fringe benefits. Think of him as the Andy Dufresne of Frostburg if you will.
Judge Fawcett and his girlfriend have been murdered in his cabin.
Quinn Rocker escapes from Frostburg days before the Judge is killed and he has a score to settle with the good judge.
Nattie Cooley and his brother Gene also have their reasons for wanting the judge dead…
So who killed the Judge?
Malcolm Bannister knows and in exchange for this information the FBI must put into effect Rule 35; release him, give him a new identity, the reward money, witness protection and facial surgery to completely change his looks. But they don’t have to know he also wants payback at the government for tossing him in jail for a crime he did not commit. And costing him his marriage and son.
At first the Feds don’t take him seriously, he is after all a prisoner looking for a way out of serving his time, but with next to no leads and after much bluffing they eventually bite the bait. Judge Fawcett was a federal judge so solving his crime is paramount.
Malcolm gets his new identity; Maxwell Baldwin, new look, reward money, and all the other conditions, in exchange for the information required to make an arrest and solve this crime. But little do the Feds know that Maxwell Reed has too many cards to play, getting out of prison is just the first start.
It does not take a lot for the reader to sympathise with Max because of his history with the government, but he does err on the fine line of the law too many times, which in a way serves to move the story along and its damn fine action.
I liked this story and would’ve probably loved it if is wasn’t too dense with information and details, at times it rambled on and on, I found myself scheme reading just to get to the meat of the story and at other times if felt like it didn’t give enough of a story and the dialogue was sparse. However, Grisham does a splendid job of drawing the audience in with a false sense of security and sucker punching us with a twist. He is a master of such legal suspense and his characters are agents of utmost deception. Max Baldwin is too many steps ahead before we even understand what is going on. He sets up a ruse as a filmmaker, which at first is confusing but as time goes by we soon understand why and its ingenious. Its not fast paced but meticulously well laid out. It is what makes the story worth the wait to the very end.
Grisham is also a master at characterisation; no character is useless in this book, everyone serves their purpose and comes into the story at the right moment, even the dead ones. In other words, there are plenty of important characters so keep an eye open.
However, one thing I cannot reconcile the fact that Bannister never goes to look for his son even when he is released. I understand that with the new identity and face it will be a tricky situation and he made his peace with the loss of his old life but he refers to the boy enough that he should want to search him out, maybe even let his ex-wife know about his innocence and new life… For that reason it feels incomplete and rushed, especially towards the end.
Still its a good, good read.