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by John Grisham, read by J.D. Jackson
Random House Audio, October 2012
Unabridged pages
ISBN: 0307943259

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At the end of his new legal thriller, John Grisham advises the reader that he has performed almost no research to produce THE RACKETEER - that it is almost totally made up. That statement is in itself somewhat of a fiction, but Grisham's approach is both the strength and the weakness of this new page turner.

Malcolm Bannister has been sentenced to ten years in a federal prison on racketeering charges for money laundering. He was swept up by overzealous prosecutors along with big-time thugs, and wound in what have become known as the "country club" prisons, though Malcolm would disagree. There he has set himself up as a jailhouse lawyer, writing appeals and handling numerous divorce cases. His few appellate successes have won him a steady stream of hopeful inmates.

He knows that his only ticket out of Frostburg, the fictitious prison camp of this novel, is Rule 35. If Bannister can solve another crime—in this case, the murder of Judge Fawcett—the government will release him, give him a new identity, and place him in the Witness Protection Program. Bannister knows just the guy to get him his "get-out-of-jail-free card."

Once he's released, the plot is really set into motion, with Bannister providing much detail about how he sets up his new life. What is interesting, however, is the degree to which Bannister misleads the readers/listeners at the same time. While the unreliable narrator has been with us since the eighteenth century, Grisham has gone overboard here: As Bannister sets up an elaborate scheme, of which only vague details are revealed, we are left to scratch our heads in wonder as to what he is really up to. Some will find this combination of small revelations and major concealments an exciting challenge while others will simply be annoyed.

Much of the action is wildly implausible—and I'm not going to spoil the plot here. For those willing to set such considerations aside, THE RACKETEER has enough action to keep the audience interested until the end. Grisham fans will be delighted to discover that the author has broken away from his well-worn courtroom drama of lawyers defending falsely convicted clients. Bannister, as a wrongly convicted attorney, somewhat fits into this mold, and there is still too much preaching in the novel about the cost of incarcerating nonviolent criminals. He never acknowledges, though, that the "country club" set, however much they complain, have it far better than imprisoned women in the United States, for whom there is nothing less than medium security federal prisons, however nonviolent or low-level their offenses.

Despite Grisham's disclaimer, he clearly did - or had freelancers perform- some research into things like the Witness Protection Program that is on offer. Elsewhere, details are wrong; for instance, a Visa gift card, which can be purchased at many stores, is not the same as a pre-paid credit card.

However, if you want an action-packed read and promise not to imitate any of Malcolm's actions, this is fun holiday entertainment - fast-moving and tricky. J.D. Jackson is a terrific narrator, too, with a voice as rich as a Christmas dinner. He steers the listeners gracefully through the action and demonstrates a versatile range - white and black cons, Southern government agents, a sexy girlfriend, and a cast of Caribbean extras. His range is impressive, to say the least, and his performance might be better than the book itself.

Despite its flaws, THE RACKETEER is better than Grisham's last few works, and it points to a new direction. If your mojo gets going by a ride in a fast car with the top down, this is your audio.

§ Karla Jay is a legally blind audio book addict, who lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Pace University.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, November 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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