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Thursday 4 January 2018

‘The Whistler’ by John Grisham

Published by Hodder Paperbacks,
13 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-444 -79109-9 (PB)

In this exciting legal thriller, Lacy Stoltz and her colleague Hugo Hatch work for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct. With a population of 20 million, 600 circuits with 1000 judges dealing with half a million cases a year, luckily nearly all the judges are dedicated and hardworking. But cuts affect the BJC, as everywhere else, so tracking down the occasional bad apple keeps the 6 BJC employees and their boss, Michael Geisner, fully occupied.

When Lacy receives a call from a mysterious man with an obviously made-up name asking her to meet him and hear his story she agrees and brings Hugo along for back up. When she meets the man, it appears he has no fixed address and lives with his girlfriend Carlita on a boat; he is now calling himself Greg Myers. He has quite a story to tell involving a seriously corrupt woman judge and a local gang known as the Catfish Mountain. Once Lacy and Hugo get the go-ahead from Geisner, Myers fills them in: The Catfish are run by one Vonn Dubose, and he has enabled the (fictitious) American Indian tribe, the Tappacola, to open a casino on their reservation as has been done in real life by a number of Indian tribes in Florida and elsewhere. And Dubose has acquired land neighbouring the casino and there built hotels etc to accommodate visitors to the casino. These casinos are not liable to tax so Dubose and corrupt members of the tribal council, including the chief, are able easily to skim the casino proceeds. More serious is the action taken by the authorities against other tribal members who object to the casino particularly on one man who is accused of the murder of a pro-casino tribal council and his own wife: he has vehemently asserted his innocence, but all his appeals have been blocked by the Florida judge, Claudia McDowell. This is where Lacy and Hugo come in; judicial corruption is what they investigate, and if their enquiries reveal links to organised crime, then the FBI, so far unwilling to be involved, must take up the case. But Myers’s testimony is largely hearsay; more evidence will come from an intermediary, referred to as the Middleman, and from even closer to the conspiracy, a Whistleblower, ie. the Whistler of the book’s title.

The author has written a substantial number of thrillers with a legal background. Each one has increased his standing. He is not a writer one would turn to for elegant or evocative prose but he knows how to ratchet up the tension with apparent effortlessness. It struck me when I was reading it that it would provide an excellent road map for any would-be thriller writer. Although there is only one violent episode on-page – a fatal car crash – the tension increases page by page as Lacy and her colleagues search for evidence against the various participants so as to finally get the required evidence against Dubose who until now has lived so effectively under the radar that he is unknown to any of the various U.S. perennial and other authorities. In spite of the comparative lack of violence we know that the investigators are potentially in danger.

An ironic and effective touch is that many of the participants are first drawn into the web of crime without really appreciating what they are getting into. Only when it is too late do they realise what it is they have done and by then they cannot extricate themselves. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

John Grisham was born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas. As a child he dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Realizing he didn’t have the right stuff for a pro career, he shifted gears and majored in accounting at Mississippi State University. After graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990. 
One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988. The day after Grisham completed A Time to Kill, he began work on another novel, the story of a hotshot young attorney lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared. When he sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers, and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991.
Grisham took time off from writing for several months in 1996 to return, after a five-year hiatus, to the courtroom. He was honouring a commitment made before he had retired from the law to become a full-time writer: representing the family of a railroad brakeman killed when he was pinned between two cars. Preparing his case with the same passion and dedication as his books’ protagonists, Grisham successfully argued his clients’ case, earning them a jury award of $683,500—the biggest verdict of his career.
Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one novel a year. When he’s not writing, Grisham devotes time to charitable causes, including most recently his Rebuild the Coast Fund, which raised 8.8 million dollars for Gulf Coast relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He also keeps up with his greatest passion: baseball. The man who dreamed of being a professional baseball player now serves as the local Little League commissioner. The six ballfields he built on his property have played host to over 350 kids on 26 Little League teams.
Grisham lives with his wife Renee and their two children Ty and Shea. The family splits their time between their Victorian home on a farm in Mississippi and a plantation near Charlottesville, VA.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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