Written By John Grisham
Published By: Bantam
Reviewed By: Melissa Minners
I love John Grisham’s writing and read every book by him that I can get my hands on. I’ve reviewed some really great Grisham novels over the years. So, when a family member offered me a copy of The Racketeer that they had just finished, I jumped at the chance to read it.
In The Racketeer, we meet Malcolm Bannister, a former lawyer from Virginia who found himself unwittingly drawn into a racketeering case that landed him in a federal prison. When we meet him, Bannister is extremely down on his luck. Though he is presently serving time in a minimum-security prison camp and practicing some jailhouse law, he is missing his former wife, son and the respect he once had from his family and friends.
Then, one day, everything changes for Malcolm. A federal judge and his girlfriend are murdered, the contents of his rather large safe missing and suddenly Malcolm has hope for the future. Malcolm knows just who has punched the judge’s ticket and why, but can he get the Feds to believe him and if he can, will Witness Protection be able to keep him safe once the killer is in custody?
Except for The Firm, I usually find John Grisham books to be fast moving and engrossing, but The Racketeer started off as anything but that. I was less engaged with this book in its opening chapters, perhaps because the protagonist was in jail for a white-collar crime involving money laundering. I’m not fond of such individuals and this could have predisposed me not to like Malcolm. Sure, we are told that Malcolm is not to blame for his plight and that he was wrongfully accused, but as I read how he ended up in prison, I found it hard to believe that he didn’t know what was happening beforehand.
That being said, once I got toward the middle of the book and we were dealing in more depth with the mystery of who murdered the judge, I found the reading got easier, the flow of the book was faster and I was more captivated by the story. I was actually rooting for Malcolm to succeed in his little cat and mouse game with the FBI, despite my innate sense of dislike and distrust for his character.
In the end, I felt that Grisham told an entertaining story…once I really got into it, but it seemed to be lacking in believability. To understand this, one must think about the most outrageous action or horror film that they have seen. Remember that moment when someone asked you, “But a car can’t really be made to do that sort of thing, right?” and you answered, “Of course it can…in the movies!” That’s what The Racketeer reminded me of. That entertaining read that probably could never have taken place in reality. If you are a real Grisham fan, the completist in you will rush to read this novel, but if you are someone looking to see whether Grisham is right for you, I would skip this one altogether as one of his lesser works.