John Grisham’s novel The Racketeer held my interest for about the first third of the book and not for a whole lot after that. It is the story of Malcolm Bannister, a former lawyer who unknowingly got caught up helping the mob launder money. He is now serving what he thinks is a very excessive sentence at a minimum security prison. Bannister has a way out, though. He informs the warden that he knows who killed a federal judge named Raymond Fawcett. This is information the FBI is extremely interested in, and they make a deal with Bannister to free him from prison and put him into witness protection in exchange for the name of the killer.
As I said, it’s an interesting first 100 pages or so but The Racketeer soon becomes tedious because Grisham makes Bannister perhaps the smartest person on the planet. He’s thought through everything as he tricks the FBI again and again. I never got the feeling that anything would go wrong with Bannister’s plan, and this led to a lack of tension throughout the last two thirds of the book. In addition, a lot of the book seems devoted to trashing the U.S. justice and prison systems, the FBI and various other parts of the government. Whether readers agree or disagree with Bannister’s/Grisham’s views, portraying Bannister’s foes as such out-and-out fools just doesn’t make for interesting reading. He could have at least shown the feds as bumbling idiots for comic effect, but he doesn’t take this route either. When we do get scenes with the FBI characters, their dialogue is wooden and dull. Even though I was initially sympathetic to his plight, I eventually found myself rooting against Bannister by the end of the book, hoping he would get caught and sent back to serve out the rest of his prison sentence and then some.
This is the first book I’ve read by Grisham and I’m hoping it’s one of his weaker efforts. I do have to admit that despite all its flaws, I did at least want to get to the end to understand all of Bannister’s master plan. I guess that shows that The Racketeer has something going for it.