|Date Published||04 July 2013|
Lawyer Malcolm Bannister is serving a ten year sentence after being railroaded by the FBI for a crime he did not commit. When a Federal judge and his lover are murdered and the investigation stalls, Bannister tells the agency he knows the killer – and launches a brilliantly conceived plot to gain revenge.
This is no great courtroom drama, more a devious tale of revenge. Malcolm Bannister, a none too successful black lawyer, has lost everything – his family, his profession and his freedom and is serving a ten-year sentence for racketeering for his innocent involvement on the fringe of a money-laundering ring. Prison hones his legal skills as he advises other inmates and sparks a brilliantly conceived plot to take revenge on the FBI who, he believes, railroaded him for little other reason than to make conviction figures look better.
Is John Grisham, dare I say this about a writer with millions of fans worldwide, becoming a little complacent? For all its undoubted ingenuity this reads more like a draft proposal for a film script than a novel. With plans already well advanced in that direction – and doubtless Hollywood’s best black actors fighting for what is bound to be a box office smash lead role – the book looks suspiciously like a mere add-on to exploit the earning power of his name.
Indeed, Grisham comes close to admitting as much in his author’s notes, saying that research was ‘hardly a priority’ and accuracy ‘not deemed crucial.’ That attitude has spilled over into his writing. Characterisation is weak – we know very little more about his protagonist at the end than we did at the start and his girlfriend, who plays a crucial part in what is essentially a tale of the greatest con in American history, is presented almost entirely as having big breasts and superb legs! The rest of the characters are little more than walk-ons, their often inconsequential roles mainly to pad out the plot and action. Far too much is left unexplained.
All Grisham’s usual themes – the small man taking on the big battalions, and his thought-provoking dissection of the anomalies of the American judicial system – feature in what is an intriguing mystery tale with some clever, but often predictable plot twists. It starts well enough, sags somewhat in the middle and splutters towards a fairly abrupt ending.
Had the characters been more developed, the pace stepped up and the story closed out more effectively this could have been another triumph. As it stands it’s a smart, light and entertaining holiday read, which for a writer of his ability is a bit of a let-down. I’m looking forward to the film, though – given the plot and some spectacular settings that really should be something!
Reviewed 01 November 2013 by John Cleal