What is it exactly that makes for a good legal thriller? Relatable characters? A tense story? A convoluted conspiracy? While those elements do indeed have a certain importance, the one factor that can truly elevate a legal thriller above its peers is actual experience in the field. Many authors try their luck but fail to come across as believable for lack of intimate knowledge on how the world of the law works. General knowledge is nice and well, but it’s the little details that help to bring a story to life and make it something truly exciting, and that’s something that very few writers can do as well as John Grisham does.
Formerly a lawyer himself, Grisham has established himself as one of the most consistent and interesting legal thriller authors in today’s market, with his books having that gritty and ultra-realistic feeling most other novels lack… and I would venture to say the trend is still going on strong with his latest book, The Whistler .
John Grisham’s Main Premise
Once again, Grisham introduces us to a world of corruption and injustice, one where the law has been subverted for personal gain. Even before he kicks off the real story, Grisham manages to paint a very convincing setting, mostly by exploring the life of Lacy Stoltz, nine-year investigator for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct and protagonist. He goes beyond the point where most authors would stop, qualifying all the small interesting insider details about Lacy’s professional life, and it’s during these kinds of moments that the author’s experience in the field shines through. All the little intricacies we become privy to help us get closer to Lacy, feeling almost is if we’re sharing some kind of secret knowledge with her.
When he is done carefully crafting the setting for the plot, Grisham kicks it off in full force with good old conspiracy that involves the friendly neighbourhood mafia and a judge so corrupt that it seems he feeds on money. The plot is very much grounded in reality, as the web of corruption revolves around a casino built on Native American land… a project that was illegally-financed by the above-mentioned mafia.
Now that it’s up and running, the mafia is helping itself to a pretty sizable cut month after month, all the while that corrupt judge gets a piece of the pie for simply looking the other way. This is the kind of scheme that happens quite commonly in the real world, and the accuracy with which Grisham describes in The Whistler the whole operation really makes us buy into the idea that such corruption exists and must be dealt with, for at the very least it undermines the justice system. It’s all so meticulously qualified that are even some points where we get the impression that the author had to deal with such a case during his practice, or at least stood witness to one.
Eventually, Lacy Stoltz gets some help from a couple of shady people and decides that it is indeed time to put a stop to this irreverent corruption, but of course, a conspiracy wouldn’t be called that if it wasn’t dangerous; this sets the stage for the classic battle of one person against a whole system. It’s at this point that the real meat of the story shows itself as we are drawn deeper and deeper into a rather complicated game of cat and mouse where virtually every action has some sort of implications down the road. The intensity slowly builds up as we get closer and closer to the end and Stoltz’s vulnerability, despite being a protagonist, really makes us worry as to whether or not she will make it. The author works some real magic in making us feel like there are no real guarantees, and that perhaps like in real life, the bad guys will chalk up a win here.
The Grand Verdict
Even though there is a decent amount of legal jargon and descriptions of judicial procedures, Grisham shows once again his talent for keeping it all very simple and understandable, even for someone such as myself who knows more about rocket science than the law (which is to say, not much). I did get slightly confused during a few moments of legal babble, but ultimately I either got back on track quickly, did a few seconds of research, or contented myself with having gotten the general gist of things. If anything, by the time you’re done reading The Whistler you’ll feel more knowledgeable in regards to your rights, and of course you’ll know the essentials to taking down a giant gambling racket and its corrupt judge.
In summary, The Whistler is yet another fantastically-solid John Grisham legal thriller to add to your collection. It doesn’t beat around the bush and takes us on a wild confrontation in the domain of justice. His experience as a lawyer helps tremendously in making the whole plot believable, realistic and with a lasting impact, knowing that such crimes definitely do take place in the real world around us. If you enjoy John Grisham’s other works, want to get introduced to his writing, or are simply looking for that one law thriller novel that will put most others to shame, this is definitely the book I recommend you buy.