John Grisham has often used his crime novels to criticize, with his usual dry cynicism, the uglier workings of the legal world. In the past, he has gone after lawsuit factories, big corporate law firms, and the use of capital punishment.
In his latest novel, The Racketeer, Grisham takes on the unfair abuses of the federal justice system. The main character is Malcolm Bannister, a small town lawyer caught up in the wide net of a federal racketeering case. Named a co-conspirator even though he is innocent of any criminal intent, Malcolm is nonetheless convicted by the federal justice machine and sentenced to ten years by a hard case judge.
As Malcolm serves out his undeserved time, a federal judge is murdered by an unknown killer. The murder sparks a frenzied hunt by the FBI to find the killer. When Malcolm realizes he knows the killer's identity, it gives him a chance to make a deal to trade for his freedom.
From there, the plot takes an unexpected turn, along with Malcolm's life. The Racketeer is an entertaining read in places, but it's not John Grisham's best work. The strongest thing about the novel is showing how the criminal justice system can go wrong, and what it takes to make things right again.
BEACH RATING: 3 Palm Trees