Bad Man’s Blunder


This may be John Grisham’s most recent legal thriller. It came out in 2012, and I just finished reading through the Kindle edition. It’s The Racketeer. I previously reviewed The Firm, The Client, and The Pelican Brief, all since made into major motion pictures.

The first thing you notice about these titles is each begins with “The.” His stories appear to be about the something or the other. All involve legal shenanigans of some sort. Misconduct on the part of the American legal system is a theme that runs through most. That is the case with this one.

It’s about Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer wrongfully convicted and sentenced to ten years in the federal slam for money laundering. He’s halfway through his sentence at a minimum security government country club when the story begins. Bannister is a break from Grisham’s usual subject. Grisham is white, and Bannister seems to be the first black guy to star in one of his novels. Another disjuncture is Bannister’s tale is in the first person, mostly:

I am a lawyer, and I am in prison. It’s a long story.

I’m forty-three years old and halfway through a ten-year sentence handed down by a weak and sanctimonious federal judge in Washington, D.C. All of my appeals have run their course, and there is no procedure, mechanism, obscure statute, technicality, loophole, or Hail Mary left in my thoroughly depleted arsenal. I have nothing.

Grisham, John (2012-10-23). The Racketeer (p. 1). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What Bannister does as a lawyer in stir is to review the stories of others and determine whether they have a case for release or reduced sentence. He is rarely successful—most are in for the crimes they committed. However, he hears a slew of convicts’ tales, and a couple of them tie together in a way that makes the plot.

The plot revolves around the murder (and likely robbery) of a federal judge and his sleepover girlfriend. Bannister learns some things talking to his convict clients, and he hatches a plan to spring himself from his remaining five years.

He contacts the federal prosecutors about the murder of Judge Raymond Fawcett for a Rule 35 release.

Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides the only mechanism for the commutation of a prison sentence. Its logic is brilliant and fits my situation perfectly. If an inmate can solve another crime, one that the Feds have an interest in, then the inmate’s sentence can be reduced. Of course, 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.

Grisham, John (2012-10-23). The Racketeer (p. 88). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In return for his release, induction into the witness protection program, a new face, and a new life, Bannister will obtain for the feds an indictment in the Fawcett murder case. The feds take the bait, and Bannister delivers up former inmate Quinn Rucker, who walked himself out of the prison without walls a few weeks prior to the murder. Rapidly the federal fuzz have Mr. Rucker in custody, and rapidly he coughs up a confession. Immediately the federal prosecutors obtain their indictment and just as rapidly Malcolm Bannister is released.

Only, there is a hitch. The agreement included only an indictment. A conviction was not required. And an indictment is all the government gets. It’s a hoax pulled off by Bannister to get himself sprung. Quinn is not the person who committed the crime. The prosecution has no tangible evidence tying him to the crime, only a confession, and the testimony is shaky at best, phony at worst. There is worse. Quinn is in on the hoax. He has an airtight alibi for the crime. He has documented evidence he was daily at a rehabilitation center during the time of the crime.


But wait. Bannister has known all along who the real murderer is. The body of the plot has Bannister teaming up with Quinn’s steamy sister to set up and crack the real murderer. There follows Grisham’s well-recognized theme of playing dodge ball with the official powers, carefully timed ruses, ferreting out the millions of dollars worth of unregistered gold bullion that had been the murderer’s purpose, and getting himself and his cooperatives safely out of reach of the law. It’s not the first of Grisham’s tales to end with the principals literally sailing off into the sunset:

The captain returns; everything is in order. We have arrived on Antigua with the gold and with no suspicions. I explain to the steward that we want to move the scuba gear to my villa because it will be easier to use from there. And while we’re at it, we’ll take the luggage as well. We’ll probably use the yacht to dive around the islands, and for a long dinner or two, but for the first day or so we’ll stay at my place. The steward is fine with this, whatever we wish, and calls for taxis. While they are en route, we help the deckhands unload our bags and duffels onto the dock. It’s quite a pile, and no one would suspect we’re hiding $ 8 million in gold in luggage and scuba gear.

It takes three taxis to haul everything, and as we load up we wave good-bye to the steward and the captain. Twenty minutes later we arrive at the villa in Sugar Cove. When everything is inside, we exchange high fives and jump in the ocean.

Grisham, John (2012-10-23). The Racketeer (p. 382). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


One thought on “Bad Man’s Blunder

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie Wednesday | Skeptical Analysis

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