John Ray Grisham is an american bestselling writer (Arkansas 1955) and also an attorney and politician well known for his legal thrillers. His books have been translated into more than 42 languages, and sold over 275 millions copies worldwide! His first novel was published in 1989. Grisham is among the three authors to have sold 2 millions copies on a first printing : the other two are Tom Clancy and JK Rowling. His first bestseller was The firm in 1991 which sold more than 7 millions copies and was adapted first in 1993 in a movie of the same name starring Tom Cruise, then in 2012 in a TV series.
I’ve read many of his books and I like his writing because he builds good plots told through short and dynamic chapters, written like a script.
The Racketeer (2012) Le manipulateur (2013) in French is another legal thriller novel. This is John Grisham’s 30th book. This time I found there was too much legal jargon and explanations, which rather annoyed me. I do admit that is a way to explain the importance of Law in the US, a complex and often flawed legal system ; this time the main protagonist is an African American.
About the title. A rack-e-teer is a person who obtains money illegally, as by fraud, by extortion, etc.
This time the plot is quite complicated and centred around the implication of the federal government in corruption and abuses. The plot starts with the murder of Federal Judge Raymond Fawcett. Something went wrong with Judge Fawcett in 2000, his opinions were shorter, not as well reasoned, nasty at times. That year, he was nominated by President Clinton on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which means that he was among the 15 judges considering only appeal cases. The biggest case in his career was a case over uranium mining that began in 2003.
A Federal Judge in the US is somewhat of a God-like figure, a very important person since the Constitution allows him to serve until death. It’s a tremendous prestige earning little money (125 000 $ a year for a job filled with stress). The only rank higher than a Federal Judge is a US Supreme Court Judge. The federal prisons are a heavy business for the government (Federal Correction Institutions) since the cost per year for ONE inmate is 40 000$ in comparison with 8 000$ a year for an elementary school student. If the government swapped these costs, they could probably lower criminality considering how many illiterates there are in such a big territory.
The murder takes place and the FBI cannot find a single lead. Malcom Bannister is a 43- year -old disbarred black lawyer in prison since 5 years ago (out of 10) because of money laundering and accused of helping a client hide money from the FBI, the IRS and others under the control of his Law Firm. In truth, Bannister is not guilty and his only fault was to pick a dubious client. Bannister pretends to know about the murder and makes a deal with the FBI : if he gives out the name of the murderer, his sentence will be reduced according to Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which provides the only mechanism for the commutation of a prison sentence. If an inmate can solve a crime of interest to the Feds, then the sentence can be reduced. This takes the cooperation of the investigating authorities (FBI, DEA, CIA, ATF and so on) and of the court from which the inmate was sentenced. Bannister makes also a deal as to make him a member of the US Federal Witness Protection Program : this would provide him with a completely new identity, legal papers and money as to start a new life.
Lawyer Malcom Bannister gives the name of Quinn Rucker, 38, a black male convicted of distributing narcotics and sentenced to 7 years. This guy has a younger nephew that judge Fawcett indicted with a 18-year sentence despite offering a bribe to Fawcett of about half a million US$. Everyone in the Rucker family is dealing with drugs ; they are rich and definitely revengeful.
From this point on the plot is a very good thriller; I was breathless and did not guess the end. The story is about revenge but also about the very devious and surprising destiny of a smart man.
THE RACKETEER, Doubleday 2012, ISBN 978-0-385-53514-4