John Grisham ranks at the top of authors in world-wide sales of his books. He has published more than two dozen novels, almost all of them revolving around America’s legal system. But he refuses to allow himself to be categorized or pigeonholed by his books. Grisham’s THE INNOCENT MAN was a nonfiction account of an Oklahoma man wrongfully convicted of murder. Turning away from legal themes entirely, Grisham has occasionally provided readers with sports-themed novels. A series of books devoted to young readers is also part of his library. While often using his fictional writing as an opportunity to speak out against what he views as injustice in the legal system, on occasion he will simply reward readers with a flat-out thriller.
"Unbound by the borders of the courtroom or a trial, THE RACKETEER is vigorously entertaining.... John Grisham is a baseball fan, and so I will pay him the ultimate baseball compliment. In 20 years of writing, he appears to have lost nothing off his fastball."
From Shakespeare to Tony Soprano, the theme of revenge has always been a favorite; THE RACKETEER is a novel of revenge. Malcom Bannister’s life has been destroyed by overzealous investigators, prosecutors and judges. While serving a prison sentence, Bannister acquires what he hopes will be an incredible bargaining chip that will serve as his “get out of jail card.” A federal judge, Raymond Fawcett, has been murdered at his weekend home in rural Virginia. There is no physical evidence to aid the FBI in solving the murder. In addition, the judge was killed after emptying the contents of the large safe hidden in the home. No one has any idea of the safe’s contents. Banister knows who committed the murder and the motive for the killing; all he demands in exchange for the information is a new identity, a new life and his immediate release from prison.
Bannister’s imprisonment serves as a soapbox for Grisham’s trenchant legal observations, suggesting that the incarceration of far too many of our citizens in a prison-industrial complex is a substantial waste of federal and state funds. For example, Bannister observes early in the novel that his incarceration in prison costs Americans $40,000 per year. At the same time, our nation spends only $8,000 annually to educate a child in our public schools.
You wonder where Bannister’s dish of revenge is going to be prepared and how it will be served. The plot twists and feints during the second half of the novel will occasionally have you checking the title to make certain you are still reading the same book. Go ahead, try to stay a few steps ahead of the author. In the end, he will bring the final pieces of the puzzle together and a perfect picture will emerge.
Unbound by the borders of the courtroom or a trial, THE RACKETEER is vigorously entertaining. THE FIRM, published in 1991, was Grisham’s first appearance as a bestselling author. Two decades have passed, and his latest has the same elements: exciting characters, enthralling plot twists, and page-turning action. Grisham is a baseball fan, and so I will pay him the ultimate baseball compliment. In 20 years of writing, he appears to have lost nothing off his fastball.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on October 26, 2012