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Book Review – The Racketeer by John Grisham

August 24, 2013 Leave a comment

The Racketeer by John Grisham

Book Description:

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.

*

Okay, how did The Racketeer end up one of Amazon’s mystery/thriller Best Books of the Month picks for October 2012? Must’ve been a lean month or maybe they were judging it by the first half of the book (which was great) and ignored how things went downhill in the second half? I don’t get it. I was so annoyed I wanted to chuck my copy out the window by the time I was done…

The Racketeer introduces the main character, Malcolm Bannister, to us as this 43 y/o black lawyer who is halfway through his ten-year sentence for racketeering. Malcolm explains that he is innocent and reveals the circumstances behind his unjust incarceration. He’s lost his wife to divorce and missed out on his son’s growing up years. Malcolm came across as a disillusioned (ex-idealistic) good & honest guy, so I was really rooting for him when Malcolm reveals that he has a final card to play in his bid for freedom.

Here’s the situation: a federal judge is found murdered –  the FBI is stumped, no leads, no suspects – but guess what, Malcolm just happens to know who did it, and why. Malcolm is willing to name names BUT only for the right price (aka his freedom). Like I said, it’s a GREAT start. There’s suspense, excitement, I’m devouring pages, hoping Malcolm gets some redemption, marveling at how clever he is….  and had things stayed the course, I would have declared The Racketeer one of John Grisham’s best legal thrillers to date.

But. And that’s a big BUT.

But in the second half, John Grisham pulls the rug out from under us. I don’t want to spoil things, so I won’t go into details, but apparently, much of what we’d been told earlier by Malcolm ranged from half-truths to lies.  Needless to say, I was pretty much pissed off for much of the second half of The Racketeer (hence, wanting to throw my copy out the window). The plot changes were so bizarre and came out of left-field. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know the main character anymore – Malcolm was turning out the opposite of who he claimed to be, and was off stalking this new character we’d never heard of, and unbelievably, the ‘love of his life’ pops up too (a woman who was barely mentioned in the first half, nary a hint that there was anything more between them other than some flirting). The ending was something out of Wild Things (the movie) mashed with The Sting (the movie). Bizarre, just bizarre.

Malcolm may have sailed off into the sunset much like Neve Campbell’s character in Wild Things, but as far as I was concerned, he’d turned from hero to zero. Good riddance to him. And good riddance to this book too – word of advice, don’t bother.

The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday) is available on Amazon, B&N, Apple iBooks, Book Depository

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Book Review – The Litigators by John Grisham

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

The partners at Finley & Figg—all two of them—often refer to themselves as “a boutique law firm.” Boutique, as in chic, selective, and prosperous. They are, of course, none of these things. What they are is a two-bit operation always in search of their big break, ambulance chasers who’ve been in the trenches much too long making way too little. Their specialties, so to speak, are quickie divorces and DUIs, with the occasional jackpot of an actual car wreck thrown in. After twenty plus years together, Oscar Finley and Wally Figg bicker like an old married couple but somehow continue to scratch out a half-decent living from their seedy bungalow offices in southwest Chicago.

And then change comes their way. More accurately, it stumbles in. David Zinc, a young but already burned-out attorney, walks away from his fast-track career at a fancy downtown firm, goes on a serious bender, and finds himself literally at the doorstep of our boutique firm. Once David sobers up and comes to grips with the fact that he’s suddenly unemployed, any job—even one with Finley & Figg—looks okay to him.

With their new associate on board, F&F is ready to tackle a really big case, a case that could make the partners rich without requiring them to actually practice much law. An extremely popular drug, Krayoxx, the number one cholesterol reducer for the dangerously overweight, produced by Varrick Labs, a giant pharmaceutical company with annual sales of $25 billion, has recently come under fire after several patients taking it have suffered heart attacks. Wally smells money.

A little online research confirms Wally’s suspicions—a huge plaintiffs’ firm in Florida is putting together a class action suit against Varrick. All Finley & Figg has to do is find a handful of people who have had heart attacks while taking Krayoxx, convince them to become clients, join the class action, and ride along to fame and fortune. With any luck, they won’t even have to enter a courtroom! It almost seems too good to be true. And it is.

The Litigators is a tremendously entertaining romp, filled with the kind of courtroom strategies, theatrics, and suspense that have made John Grisham America’s favorite storyteller.

*

A tremendously entertaining romp” indeed! That describes John Grisham’s latest  The Litigators to a T. I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun reading a John Grisham book, but with his latest, Grisham definitely pushed all the right buttons for me. I practically inhaled this in one sitting (and laughing like a maniac every now and then to boot!) Don’t expect a hard-boiled courtroom thriller (even though tort case(s) do figure strongly in the story) – The Litigators doesn’t take itself seriously at all – it’s funny, satirical, almost fairy-tale like, really, just with lawyers.

32-year-old David Zinc is a bit too young to be having a midlife crisis, but in one memorable day, he quits his highly paid (if life-energy draining) job as an international finance law associate at the high-flying lawfirm Rogan Rothberg to stumble onto a new life as a rookie street lawyer at the “boutique firm’ of Finley & Figg (starring the already quietly defeated Oscar Finley and his still defiantly scrappy / dreamy partner Wally Figg). Idealistic David’s new digs at work may be a bit of dump, but he does get a new lease in his life (and at least his wife is amazingly supportive). Before you can say boo, however, Finley, Figg and Zinc find themselves in line for a  potentially huge windfall, riding the coat-tails of a torts lawsuit against the big Pharma company Varrick whose billion $$$ cholesterol drug may (or may not) be killing people. The objective : reach a settlement without ever stepping foot in the courtroom. The problem :  nothing goes as planned and Finley, Figg and Zinc are suddenly in way over their heads. And that’s when the fun starts 🙂

I loved the front row seats we got as Grisham shows us how a big class-action suit unfolds, but the heart and soul of the book for me were his wonderfully flawed characters. No one is really the big bad here, and everyone has a kernel of likability. Stealing the show was the hopeless gold-pot-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow-chasing Wally who crashes and burns (repeatedly) in spectacular fashion, but of course, given that this is a Grisham book, it’s the idealistic genuinely good-hearted David who carries the day in the end (in a very satisfying way too!).

With The Litigators, I feel good about being a Grisham fan again, and I really recommend this as a fun, light and humorous read with a lot of heart. Grisham obviously didn’t take himself too seriously while writing this, so let’s just enjoy this in the spirit it’s offered! If you ever enjoyed any of Grisham’s work in the past, don’t miss this one. If you’ve never read Grisham, this is a good place to start 🙂

(P.S. Please let this be a movie in the near future! I have in mind John Cusack as David, Nathan Lane as Wally, Alec Baldwin as Oscar – what about you?)

The Litigators by John Grisham (Doubleday) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Hardcover edition, Paperback edition and Audible audio edition.

The eBook is also available at B&N, Apple iBooks, Kobo books

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Book Review – Theodore Boone: The Abduction by John Grisham

November 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

Theodore Boone is back in a new adventure, and the stakes are higher than ever. When his best friend, April, disappears from her bedroom in the middle of the night, no one, not even Theo Boone–who knows April better than anyone–has answers.

As fear ripples through his small hometown and the police hit dead ends, it’s up to Theo to use his legal knowledge and investigative skills to chase down the truth and save April.

Filled with the page-turning suspense that made John Grisham a #1 international bestseller and the undisputed master of the legal thriller, Theodore Boone’s trials and triumphs will keep readers guessing until the very end.

*

Theodore Boone: The Abduction by John Grisham is his follow-up to his 2010 foray to YA fiction Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. The first book left readers hanging with an unresolved murder trial, but unfortunately, that isn’t covered in book #2 (although it’s indicated at the end of The Abduction that Book #3 would pick-up with the murder trial again). Instead, book #2 is more of a stand-alone story dealing with the possible abduction of Theodore Boone’s best friend April. The girl was frequently left home alone by her absentee parents, and then one night, just disappears without a trace from her bedroom. With the police stuck just following one lead, 13-year-old Theo and his friends take it upon themselves to help find their missing friend.

I’m not exactly sure how Grisham managed to make a story dealing with the abduction of a child so … unexciting and oddly lacking in tension. Is there a nice way to say ‘snooze-fest‘? The best part of The Abduction had nothing to do with the main plot at all – it’s a little interlude where Theo shows up at Animal Court and defends a feisty old parrot in danger of having its wings clipped. I found myself laughing out loud  and enjoying myself for the first time in the book, and wished for more scenes like that. Other than that funny interlude, the rest of the book was just dragging and dull for me. The only other bright point about The Abduction I can say is that at least Grisham never talks down to his YA readers, and several legal terms are explained clearly and succinctly. Grisham’s strength is in making legal proceedings easily understandable, so I missed having more court scenes in this book.  I’ve said before that I thought the Theodore Boone series would work better as an anthology of short stories, and I still believe that. Maybe I can request for a Theodore Boone: Animal Court anthology one day? 🙂

I’ve heard good things about Grisham’s latest book for adults The Litigators, so maybe the problem is that Grisham just hasn’t found the right voice for a YA book yet.

Theodore Boone: The Abduction by John Grisham (Dutton Juvenile) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Hardcover, Audio CD and Audible audio edition. Also available on Amazon UK.


For a second opinion – here’s some reviews of The Abduction by other bloggers:


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Book Review – The Confession by John Grisham

January 9, 2011 4 comments

Book Description:

An innocent man is about to be executed. Only a guilty man can save him.

For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of his crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed.

Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess.

But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?

*

I’ve been disappointed by John Grisham’s most recent efforts, so I wasn’t really sure I wanted to read his latest legal thriller The Confession. But it has a hell of a plot – what do you do if a career criminal/sex offender confesses to you for a rape/murder, and it just happens that an innocent man has been railroaded into a conviction for it and is scheduled to be executed any day now? And how do you go about convincing the authorities?

How could I resist? I was just hoping that this wasn’t going to turn out to be another ‘The Appeal‘ (one of the worst books John Grisham has ever written – see my previous review). Well, after slogging through The Confession‘s three parts (The Crime, The Punishment and The Exoneration), I can say that while the new book doesn’t quite measure up to the best that John Grisham can offer (like A Painted House), it’s nowhere as bad as The Appeal. The plot is pretty straightforward – we the readers follow in suspense as minister Keith Schroeder and the reluctant confessor Travis Boyette go on the road to try to exonerate Donté Drumm, while Donté’s legal team (headed by the fiery Robbie Flak) pulls out all the stops to try to get a stay in his execution … will they be in time to save Donté’s life versus a bereaucracy (Court of Appeals, Texas Governor) determined to go through with the execution? Grisham incorporates a lot of realism in it, especially during Part 2: The Punishment where we meet all the machinery involved in getting a man efficiently executed in the great state of Texas. (Emphasis on the realistic portrayal – I felt like I was counting down the excruciating minutes with the characters) And this is all against the backdrop of throbbing racial unrest in the condemmed man’s home city (Donté is an African-American convicted by an all-white judge/jury).

The book felt so much longer than it was though, there were parts that just dragged and felt very tedious – like Grisham was trying to draw it out for suspense, but I just felt frustrated in response. And while the legal parts felt realistic to me, Grisham falls short with his characterization. Like in The Appeal, the good guys are really good, and the bad guys are pretty bad. Grisham draws sympathetic pictures of Donté Drumm, his family and his legal team, and that’s okay – I get why he wrote them that way – but the bad guys (detective Drew Kerber, DA Paul Koffee, the politicians, etc etc) might as well have been holding up placards saying ‘Villain’, ‘Bigot’ and ‘Loser’ to their faces. Pretty much overkill. I mean, I get that the whole book tries to present a case against death penalty, and John Grisham definitely has very strong views about this issue (“He is on the Board of Directors of the Innocence Project in New York and is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law.”), but by making his characters what they were, there’s no debate needed in this story. Anybody – even someone passionately for the death penalty – would be against the railroading of a young man as innocent as Donté Drumm versus a system with a face as corrupt as Drew Kerber & Paul Koffee.

But like I said, The Confession has one hell of a story to tell, with a really good inside-look at the legal/justice system – plus it’s a much better effort than some of Grisham’s last books. I just wish that Grisham wasn’t so darned preachy about it.

The Confession by John Grisham is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition ($9.99), Hardcover ($15.05), Mass Market Paperback ($9.99) or Audiobook ($21.12).

The eBook is also available for $9.99 on B&N Nook, Kobo books and Sony eBookstore.

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Book Review – ‘Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer’ by John Grisham

June 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Book Description:

A perfect murder, A faceless witness, A lone courtroom champion knows the whole truth . . . and he’s only thirteen years old . . . Meet Theodore Boone

In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he’s only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he’s one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk — and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.

But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than expected. Because he knows so much — maybe too much — he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.

The stakes are high, but Theo won’t stop until justice is served.

John Grisham jumps into the very lucrative children/ young adult market with Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. How did he do? I’d say he did just okay – not something to get excited about however. If he wants Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer to be a successful series (and given how this book ends abruptly as a set up for a sequel, I’d say that’s what he & his publisher is gearing up for), he’s gotta up the stakes. I’m pretty sure people will check this novel out for their kids just on the strength of John Grisham’s name, but I’m guessing there will be some disappointed people out there. But then, parents have to realize that the intended audience for this novel are children – and from the tone of it – I’d guess the pre-teen market. This means that nothing too scary or exciting happens, and a lot of pages are spent explaining concepts and terms.

Theodore Boone is a 13-year-old kid who is obsessed with the law (the way other kids might be about playing video games or baseball) and he wants to either be a trial lawyer or a judge when he grows up. In the meantime, his favorite hangout place is the local courthouse (where he counts the judge as a personal friend) and the most exciting thing in his life is a murder trial that he follows (as closely as another kid might follow a Lakers season or one of those cartoon series running on Nickelodeon).

Theo may not be a real lawyer (yet), but school friends approach him for ‘legal’ advise all the time & he’s called up by his teacher to explain legal concepts to the other students too. Personally, I think this is where John Grisham shines. Using Theo as his voice, he simplifies and breaks down difficult legal terms for his readers and walks us through a criminal trial, explains what the prosecution or defense does, and with the minor ‘cases’ that Theo handles for his friends, things like ‘foreclosure’, ‘bankruptcy’, ‘Animal court’ are explained very simply but thoroughly. I think the book would be a great starting off point for parents or teachers to discuss with kids – like the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ for example.

Things start to get a little exciting for Theo when he learns about a possible surprise witness to the murder trial he is following. Theo is sworn to secrecy, but how can he in all conscience keep quiet while a cold-blooded killer might go free? I thought this was another thing that John Grisham handled well – how Theo was able to keep his promise while enlisting necessary adult (i.e. his uncle & parents) help.

The novel does come across as dated to me – there are elements that remind you that you are in present day America (i.e. Theo uses his laptop, hacks into websites, uses email, the witness is an illegal alien, etc) – but most of the time, it felt like the setting was sometime in the past – a more innocent era where a young kid is free to roam the city with his bike, and the characters (Theo and his parents) come across as idealized and a bit too-good-to-be-real. And like I said earlier, nothing too scary happens, so some kids who expect action ala Harry Potter may find it a boring read. Maybe, John Grisham should’ve broken it up into shorter segments or short stories – kinda like the Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective series.

But like I said, the book can be a good start-off point for conversations between kids and their parents or teachers. I wouldn’t write off John Grisham, children’s book writer, just yet.

‘Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer’ is available on Amazon as a Hardcover ($9.00), and Audio CD ($13.57). Surprisingly, there is no Kindle version. Over on Barnes & Noble, the hardcover goes for $9.34.

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Book Review – The Appeal by John Grisham

September 10, 2009 2 comments

Synopsis:

In a crowded courtroom in Mississippi, a jury returns a shocking verdict against a chemical company accused of dumping toxic waste into a small town’s water supply, causing the worst “cancer cluster” in history. The company appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, whose nine justices will one day either approve the verdict or reverse it.

Who are the nine? How will they vote? Can one be replaced before the case is ultimately decided?

The chemical company is owned by a Wall Street predator named Carl Trudeau, and Mr. Trudeau is convinced the Court is not friendly enough. With judicial elections looming, he decides to try to purchase himself a seat on the Court. The cost is a few million dollars, a drop in the bucket for a billionaire like Mr. Trudeau. Through an intricate web of conspiracy and deceit, his political operatives recruit a young, unsuspecting candidate. They finance him, manipulate him, market him, and mold him into a potential Supreme Court justice. Their Supreme Court justice.

The Appeal was such a disappointment for me. Did John Grisham always write this badly? The novel did start off with a bang – with a $41-million verdict for the good guys – but then it quickly ran out of steam and just limped along for the rest of the story.

Mr Grisham’s main point for this book is that “evil business” has corrupted our judicial (and electoral) systems. So important is this message that he then browbeats us with this lesson, helped along by unbelievable one-dimensional cookie-cutter characters, ie. the heroes – the cancer victims & their perfect self-sacrificing lawyers (the Paytons) & the “good” justices versus the evil CEO (Mr. Trudeau) & his henchmen & the super naive Supreme Court justice candidate. Honestly, the characters are so badly written, I found myself pulling for the evil CEO simply because at least his schemes were interesting!

I’m thinking next time, I’ll first borrow a Grisham book from the library before deciding whether I’ll buy a copy.

Click here to read an excerpt (Chapter 1 – which is a pretty good chapter, considering) and if you really really must read all of John Grisham, grab yourself a copy of The Appeal!

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