The Racketeer by John Grisham

December 24, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Who is the Racketeer? And what does he have to do with the judge’s untimely demise? His name, for the moment, is Malcolm Bannister. Job status? Former attorney. Current residence? The Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

On paper, Malcolm’s situation isn’t looking too good these days, but he’s got an ace up his sleeve. He knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and he knows why. The judge’s body was found in his remote lakeside cabin. There was no forced entry, no struggle, just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.

What was in the safe? The FBI would love to know. And Malcolm Bannister would love to tell them. But everything has a price—especially information as explosive as the sequence of events that led to Judge Fawcett’s death. And the Racketeer wasn’t born yesterday…

Nothing is as it seems and everything’s fair game in this wickedly clever new novel from John Grisham, the undisputed master of the legal thriller.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I thought Malcolm was fairly likable. This was a critical point because if he came off as too smug, I would have wanted him to fail. He came dangerously close to crossing into the “smug zone” a few times, but I found myself rooting for him more often than not.
  • I liked the gold robbery. It was something different (at least for me) and made the events seem a bit more exotic than if the characters were simply stealing $8.5 million (or whatever) in cash.
  • Yeah, sure, you have to suspend disbelief from beginning to end here, but I was willing to do so because this particular author has earned that much from me based on past works.


  • What was up with that epilogue? Unless I’m interpreting it wrong, Grisham was basically saying he was too lazy to do actual research for the book, so he just wrote whatever he wanted. I’m not one who expects absolute accuracy with fiction, but if Grisham feels that way, maybe it’s time to do something else.
  • The book dragged in many places — mostly because Grisham didn’t reveal what Malcolm was really after (the gold) or what Nathan had to do with it (he was the one who robbed and murdered Judge Fawett) until nearly the end. So while Nathan was messing around with the production company and entwining Nathan in his trap, the reader is pretty much left scratching his/her head wondering wtf is going on (and not in a good, “this is suspenseful” way).
  • I hated that the plan worked so flawlessly. I don’t mind that Malcolm succeeded in the end (I’m glad he did), but as elaborate and complicated as that plan was, you’d think SOMETHING was bound to go wrong. The closest they ever came to trouble was when Vanessa was searching Nathan’s house and his three buddies showed up at the door. Then all she had to do was get naked, pretend she and Nathan were “busy”, and that was that. BORING!
  • I might be misremembering this (I finished the book last week and it isn’t the type of thing that sticks with you for a long time), but didn’t Malcolm’s plan hinge on the judge being murdered during the commission of the robbery? As far as I can tell, Malcolm and his buddy Quinn Rucker hatched their entire plan well before the judge died. Once Malcolm read of the murder, he swung into action. It seems kind of odd that Malcolm and Quinn would come up with something so damn intricate just to keep it on the back burner and cross their fingers that Nathan would have to resort to murder.


The Racketeer wasn’t the best Grisham book I’ve read, but neither was it the worst. Some elements, including the $8.5 million in gold ingots, the likable protagonist, and the successful heist were satisfying. However, there were enough negative points to drag my rating down to 3 stars out of 5.

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