Book Review – The Racketeer by John Grisham
“I am a lawyer, and I am in prison. It’s a long story.”
Despite my inclination toward certain categories, I make an attempt to change things up once in awhile. I feel there’s something to be learned from everything, even if in the end, the only thing you learn is a negative–an admonition.
It’s not that there are genres I actively avoid, but there are a few I rarely make a conscious effort to read; thrillers being one of those and especially sub-genres such as legal thrillers. My default interest is just not there.
I don’t entirely know how it wound up in my lap to be honest. I am a member of Paperback Swap and I often plug books into my wish list based on a recommendation that I come across somewhere. The Racketeer happened to be one of those books and unfortunately, I don’t remember the hows or whys. I figured I tagged it for a good reason though and might as well dive right in.
Malcolm Bannister is a lawyer whom we’re told was wrongfully incarcerated and after a few years in the clink, has finally found a ticket out – he claims to know who’s behind the recent murder of a federal judge, something the FBI hasn’t been able to divine. Obviously well versed in the American legal system, Bannister uses a variety of tricks and technicalities to provide the FBI their man and achieve his own freedom. Once on the outside, he tries to ensure he both remains free and at the same time, stick it to The Man whom he blames for his false imprisonment. I won’t spoil the rest of the story.
So what did I think?
I was pleasantly surprised.
Was it a flawless book? No. The opposition seemed a little amateur and even as someone who has little familiarity with the law outside of The People’s Court, I think there were some things that went down which, in real life, would be truly inane.
Complete plausibility aside, Grisham demonstrates that he is a master of tension and that’s what keeps the pages turning late into the night. Bannister was interesting and clever. The writing was lively. Also, the length was just right. Anymore text would have likely dragged the story down.
One of the book’s strong points was the dialog. It never felt wooden and I especially like how certain ethnic speech was presented. We’ve all seen failed attempts at accurately portraying ethnic and cultural dialects, but Grisham writes cleanly while still providing a distinct sense of cadence and accent.
If you read the legal thriller genre, chances are you’ve read this book. If Grisham’s work isn’t what you’d consider your cup of word tea, I think The Racketeer is as good a place to start as any and may just inform you as to Grisham’s merits as a writer. He may not be literary in the classical sense, but at least in this case, he’s proven to me that he knows how to spin a good yarn.