Back in the day, I read a lot of John Grisham, probably everything he wrote, and I've seen the movies too. Then I heard murmurings that he’d gone off the boil a bit, and other things beckoned, so it’s a while since I gave him a whirl. But here I am in a little stone house in a small village in south-west France, and on the shelf was The Racketeer. Of course I’ve got a pile of reading with me, mostly for SNB 3a, but I dipped in anyway and was immediately hooked.
The first thing I remembered was how much I enjoyed Grisham’s prose. Unlike certain other multi-millionaire authors (and no, I’m not thinking of JK Rowling) he does not make you cringe, or cackle with delighted horror at the clichés and terribly constructed sentences. He’s not a literary novelist, whatever that means, but he reads really well, smoothly and wittily, and I galloped through this novel on beaches, by rivers, and up mountains, and here I am telling you about it.
The Racketeer is the story of one Malcolm Bannister, a small town black lawyer, who is convicted of a crime he did not commit, as a result of some dirty dealing by the FBI. He has a ten-year sentence to serve and is determined to get out, so starts doing some serious thinking. And, after five years in the planning, his idea seems to work and soon he is on the outside, with a new name, a new face, and $150,000 in the bank, the reward money for shopping a fellow inmate. A highly respected judge has been murdered, together with his secretary, and a secret safe in his country hideaway has been broken open, though nobody knows what was inside it. Malcolm tells the Feds that he will tell them who did it if he can be released with no further charges and enter witness protection. This he does, and the plan seems to go smoothly at first. But soon the Feds start to get worried – Malcolm (or Max as he is now called) seems to be dashing around all over the place for no apparent reason, and the tail they have on him gets lost. Then they start getting anonymous tips saying someone knows who and where he is.
We may think at first that something is up, but we are not sure what it might be. However, as the novel goes on, Malcolm becomes increasingly hard to read. There’s a clearly some kind of master plan going on, though what it might be is impossible to guess at first, since it involves posing as a documentary film maker and taking a crew down to Virginia to interview a young drug dealer, ostensibly about his brother’s shooting by the FBI. Accompanied by the beautiful Vanessa, he pulls this off well, but events take an unexpected turn and… well, never mind.
I said that Grisham writes well, and so he does, but boy can he construct a fiendishly complex plot. What impressed me most about the novel was the fact that I couldn't really tell where Malcolm was coming from. The narrative swings from his point of view and that of the FBI, who are getting more and more confused, but we don't learn the whole story till the very end, and a brilliant one it is.
So that passed a happy few hours. Any Grisham fans out there? I feel like trying another one now, and am wondering about Sycamore Row.