By John Grisham. Grade: B+
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.
For hardcore fans of John Grisham’s legal fiction, this novel has no nitty-gritties of the legal system which have been tackled or taken advantage of by the protagonist. This is not legal fiction, this is pure fiction against a legal backdrop. But as a reader, one does not know this before reading the book. This can be interpreted in two ways: first, John Grisham is at a natural disadvantage which is not very evident and second, the reader is at a loss. The reader is at a loss due to his own expectations. One goes into a John Grisham novel with the expectation of head-on collisions with the legal system, how lawyers on one hand fight this behemoth of regulations, criminals take advantage and innocents seem to suffer because of the blind lady of justice and that too, in great detail. The Racketeer has its basic scenario cut in the very same cloth, but the devil lies in the details, which was missing altogether.
The Racketeer is the story of an innocent attorney, who after being convicted wrongly, decides to buy his freedom by telling the very same government something they desperately seek – the identity of the murderer of a federal judge. It is a story of how the people behind the curtains go to great, great lengths to secure what they need and how one man uses it to his advantage. What the endgame is – that one can only know by going through 380-odd pages of The Racketeer.
If we set aside the fact that The Racketeer was a John Grisham novel, it has a very strong pro – the plot. Why is it such a pro? Because basically when you see a single not-even-an attorney at loggerheads with world’s largest domestic security agency, the FBI and having the upper hand, seeing that very person manipulate them in ways unimaginable – it is bound to give you a kick. The plot has been very carefully constructed and well defined as such. From the beginning description of Malcolm Bannister’s life in jail to the bargain of his life to the unveiling of the endgame – all of these have been well-synchronised and sequentially well-arranged. The structure of the novel is also clear-cut. The writing has been at par as well. It has been seen many a times that a good plot feels like a disappointment only because it was not well written and in many instances, an author, by the skill of his pen and imagination, has made an average plot look very good. The sketching of some of the major characters was excellent while that of others was shaky.
All-in-all, the pros and cons of The Racketeer stand as such:
Characterisation: A very feeble pro
John Grisham: Con, because “do not judge a book by its cover”, that’s what they said. Never did they say that never judge a book by its author.
The Racketeer is a pretty decent novel, so read it, shut it, forget it.