Book Review – The Racketeer by John Grisham

“I am a lawyer, and I am in prison. It’s a long story.”

The RacketeerI try to be a wide reader (not wide in the physical sense, though my donut intake may support that point).

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.

But I recently finished John Howell‘s excellent My GRL and when The Racketeer fell into my lap, I had a more active interest in these types of stories.

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.

-Phillip

17 thoughts on “Book Review – The Racketeer by John Grisham

  1. I enjoy Grisham’s books. I recently read Sycamore Row and loved it. Oddly enough, The Racketeer was one of my least favorites of his, but I still enjoyed it. I’m a thriller fan–about to start a Michael Connelly book. I’ve earned it after the book I just slogged through for my book club. :)

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    • I’ll have to pick up Sycamore Row. I’ve heard a lot about Michael Connelly. Any suggestions for my first read of his?

      And now my curiosity is piqued, what was the bad book you just finished? :)

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      • It was called The Dovekeepers. Not a bad book by any means, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. A lot of description and lengthy passages, but it was beautifully written and researched.

        I started with the first Connelly book, but I realized I’ll never be able to get to them all, so I gave up trying to read them in order. I’m going to start a more recent one of his called The Black Box. Heard it was excellent. Plus, he autographed it for me at ThrillerFest last summer. ;)

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        • Wow, the premise for The Dovekeepers sounds great. A shame to hear about the lengthy walls of text, but I’ve learned to skim those pretty well. :)

          Hope to hear your thoughts on The Black Box! And autographed too! Awesome!!

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  2. I’ve always worked in the legal environment, so I enjoy John Grisham’s books. I haven’t read The Racketeer, but it’s funny because when I called my mother today, she said she was reading The Racketeer on her Kindle.
    What I love about Grisham is he wrote his first book on the subway, on his way to work. That has always been a motivator for me.
    Nice to see you, Phillip. I hope everything is okay.

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  3. I know Grisham is often criticized for being too mainstream or commercial, but the guy writes damn good fiction (maybe that’s why he’s a best selling novelist…hmmm). Even if certain parts aren’t entirely plausible, that’s often what makes a better story. I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my never-ending TBR list.

    Hope you’re having a better week and you’re all well, Phillip. :)

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    • Thanks Gwen. This week is going better than the past few, but I’m trying to take things one day at a time. :)

      And I agree about Grisham. I’ve never been one to look down on mainstream or commercial fiction. Sometimes I want Dr. Pepper instead of a cabernet, other times, vice-versa. As I mentioned, I’m of the firm belief that all books have something to teach us!

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  4. Hey, Phillip, hope things are going well for you and your family. I just recently finished an audio version of Sycamore Row, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I like the pace of Grisham’s novels. Years ago I read The Runaway Jury when I was convalescing from major surgery. I read it straight through :)

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  5. Great review. I haven’t read a John Grisham book since, I kid you not, The Pelican Brief. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hope you’re feeling more settled in your new home.

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