The Racketeer, by John Grisham

According to the dictionary, a racketeer is “one who obtains money illegally, as by fraud, extortion, etc.” In John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, the main character, lawyer Malcolm Bannister, was unaware the work he was doing at his law firm was dirty work, work that qualified him as a racketeer. Perhaps a more accurate title for the book would have been “The Unwitting Racketeer," but that's not nearly as catchy as Grisham's signature proper nouners ("The Client," "The Firm," and even "The Bleachers").

Even though he was unaware of any wrong-doing, Bannister was sentenced to 10 years at a federal prison camp where he is “the only black guy serving time for a white-collar crime. Some distinction.” Eight months into his sentence, his wife Dionne asked him for a divorce, and now his young son Bo is being taught baseball by Dionne’s new husband. Things indeed are bad for Bannister, who has lost his family and his friends, has been disbarred, and has no chance of an early release.

But then Bannister’s bad luck turns good because the Honorable Raymond Fawcett’s luck has turned awful. Dead awful. The 66-year-old married federal judge and his young secretary have been found murdered in the remote lakeside cabin Fawcett liked to frequent on weekends. There’s been no forced entry, no sign of struggle, no muss nor fuss save an empty metal safe and two bodies with bullets in their brains. The FBI is stumped by the crime, but Bannister knows who did it, why they did it, and what was in the safe. Or so he claims. That’s his get-out-of-jail card. He’ll trade the information for a new life on the outside, complete with witness protection, plastic surgery, and the six-figure reward money.

But in the bestselling, page-turning Grisham tradition, there is more to Bannister's agenda than just an early release, a new face, and a fat bank account. That agenda spins out of control, but the book is as fun (though not as much as “The Litigator”) as it is unrealistic. The verdict? A not totally guilty pleasure.

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