The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday, $32)

By Stuart Nulman

Malcolm Bannister is a lawyer from a small Virginia town who got a raw deal.

Because he inadvertently got himself involved in a land transaction deal on behalf of his firm with a client of questionable repute, he became one of the 14 defendants in a federal money laundering case. He was found guilty and sentenced to prison, which cost him his career and his family. Bannister is serving his time at a minimum security federal prison camp in Frostburg, Maryland, where he not only runs the prison library, but also does side duty as a prison lawyer, counseling inmates who want to appeal their cases.

Bannister can’t face the prospect of serving time for a crime that he strongly believes he was not guilty of, minimum security facility nonwithstanding. However, he has a vital piece of information that he has as a bargaining chip that could give him an automatic release from prison if he decides to cooperate with the FBI. He has the name of the person who committed the execution-style slayings of federal judge Raymond Fawcett and his secretary Naomi Clary. The name of the murderer is Quinn Rucker, a drug dealer who was Bannister’s cellmate at Frostburg, and admitted to him how he committed the killings in the judge’s remote cabin located in the Virginia mountains.

In exchange for offering up Rucker’s name to the authorities, Bannister gives them a list of conditions. Upon Rucker’s arrest and confession, Bannister not only demands from them an early release from his incarceration, but also the $150,000 reward money for the killer’s capture, a new identity (both facial and documentation) and be part of the Witness Protection Program, where he will live the rest of his life in hiding in the location of his choice.

Bannister gets his wish. He gets the $150,000 (which he deposits in several banks), gets a surgically enhanced face, a new name (Max Baldwin) and a seaside condo in Jacksonville, Florida. Bannister/Baldwin is enjoying his new life until a mere several days later, when the FBI informs him that Rucker’s family of violent drug dealers somehow managed to find out his whereabouts, and his cover his blown. Fearing for his life, Bannister/Baldwin decides to quit the Witness Protection Program and take the risk of evading certain death at the hands of the Rucker family on his own. But will he manage to accomplish this and not suffer the same violent fate of Judge Fawcett and his secretary?

This is premise of John Grisham’s latest bestselling thriller “The Racketeer”.

The book, which reads more like a combination long term chase and caper than a legal thriller, is actually entertaining and a good page turner. Malcolm Bannister/Max Baldwin is quite a resourceful character that is sympathetic at first, but is later proven to be direct, knowledgeable and knows all the twist and turns to throw anyone off his trail. He craftily uses knowledge and deception effectively to get his own version of revenge from the people who have wronged him. He may come across as somewhat arrogant, but his breathless, well thought out strategies and exploits – and the very rewarding outcome that results from them – has the reader thinking that this wronged character deserves to get his sense of justice.

“The Racketeer” gives John Grisham another #1 bestseller that will please his large legion of fans. It certainly proves that being resourceful can be quite rewarding … and like living well, can be the best revenge, too.

This review originally appeared in the February 16, 2013 issue of The West End Times.

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