The Racketeer, by John Grisham, (Doubleday, 2012, 340 pages)
I am a library patron, which saves me a lot of money. I always thought it a waste to spend upwards of twenty-five dollars for a book when I can wait a few weeks and read it for free. Two authors have been an exception to my “no buy” rule for a number of years now: the late Michael Crichton and John Grisham. Neither of them fell into The formula trap which caused every book that they wrote to give a reader a sense of deja vu. You never knew what to expect from Crichton, and it is much the same with Grisham. Books like theirs are worth having and hanging onto.
The Racketeer, Grisham’s latest legal thriller,is a book about good guys and bad guys. Funny thing though, here the good guy is in a Federal prison camp having been wrongly convicted by a self-aggrandizing federal attorney whose concern was more with putting another notch on his briefcase than it was about justice. In fact, from Malcolm Bannister’s perspective, justice got lost somewhere along the way.
Bannister is halfway through a ten-year sentence for money laundering. He didn’t launder any money, though. His small-town law firm was scammed by some criminal types, but when the indictments came down they scooped Bannister up with the rest of them only because he was their attorney. Now he sits in a federal prison camp, a prison without walls where white-collar criminals and short-term drug kingpins serve out their time. During the first five years, his wife divorced him taking their son with her. He has lost everything because federal RICO prosecutors apparently care not who they scoop up in their nets. This is a work of fiction, but the premise reflects a real world situation, which is a result of a runaway federal system.
“Oh yes. I hate the federal government, the FBI, the U.S. Attorneys, the federal judges, the fools who run the prisons. There is so much of it I hate. I’m sitting here doing ten years for a no crime because a hotshot U.S. Attorney needed to jack up his kill quota. And if the government can nail my ass for ten years with no evidence, just think of all the possibilities now that I have the words ‘Convicted Felon’ tattooed on my forehead. I’m outta here…just as soon as I can make a break.”
His chance comes when a federal judge and the woman he has been seeing on the side are found murdered in a remote cabin. The motive seems to have been robbery, since there is a safe found open and empty in the cabin.
Malcolm announces to the warden than he knows who killed the judge, and informs him that he wants to take advantage of something called Rule 35. This rule states that if a prisoner helps solve a crime outside the prison, he will be a free man. The FBI is getting nowhere in the search for the judge’s murderer, and eventually they are willing to take the risk. So, Malcolm is set free, his record expunged, and he is sent into witness protection.
Then the fun starts. Malcolm, it seems, has something up his sleeve. As often happens in Grisham novels (Runaway Jury comes to mind), the protagonist is out to make somebody pay for an injustice done to him in the past, and that is precisely what Malcolm is going to try to do. For the remainder of the novel, the reader is hanging on for dear life, trying to figure out exactly how Malcolm is going to pull it off, if in fact he can, and when the fit will hit the shan.
The mood of this novel suggests Grisham’s suspicion that our federal prosecutorial system has run amuck and has become a threat to our liberties. If so, the revenge plotted by a victim of this misconduct is oh so sweet even if it is the stuff of fantasy.
Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris