The Whistler by John Grisham – Book

John Grisham writes about the corruption that often seems rampant in our culture, and that seems to arise from the dark side of humans, tempting people to break laws and then to defend their behavior physically by intimidation and even murder, if necessary. In this book The Whistler we begin with an unidentified whistle blower. Whistle blowers have been learning to remain anonymous because the information they share is not information someone (or some group) wants shared. In this case the people who would like to silence the whistle blower are criminals so we see the need for secrecy, but how the two parties (info providers and info recipients) react is often less clear cut.

There is a go-between in this case, a guy who has no known address (lives on a boat) and has a fake name and basically lives off the grid. He relays the information from the whistle blower to Lacy and Hugo who work for Board of Judicial Conduct for the State of Florida in St. Augustine. Lacy and Hugo are tasked with investigating complaints about judges. They are not detectives or law enforcers and are not used to dealing with dangerous criminals or even equipped to do so. But this time the judge in question is entwined in a web of some complexity. There is a criminal gang involved, a Native America tribe, a ton of expensive and profitable development, and a casino on Indian land that is a gold mine once all that nearby development is in place.

But everyone is holding his/her cards close to the vest. The whistler wants to be protected before offering data that would prove that a corrupt judge is at the center of this web. The off-the-grid go-between has had dealings with this gang before, and although the gang is mainly interested in building things, raking off profits, accepting protection fees and off-shoring lots of laundered cash, the gang does not mind knocking someone off if it becomes necessary. In fact at least one person we have come to like does get killed and Lacy almost dies. As usual John Grisham puts himself and us at the intersection of human greed and human corruption.

Exactly how corrupt is the Honorable Claudia McDover? Is she worth taking down? Lacy is definitely in way over her head and even before she has any real proof to go on there is a target on her and her partner. This is one hot case for a pair used to going after small time judicial misconduct.

John Grisham, while he does not suck us in quite the way he did in his early books, still gives us a thriller that manages to cover both whistle-blowing and the human love affair with money however it is obtained. It is perfect for a weekend when TV is a wasteland, as it is most weekends, and if you like Grisham’s book you should enjoy The Whistler.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham – Book

John Grisham has been a favorite of mine over the years. He
tells a good story and he always exposes something about the legal system. He has
touched on injustices and outright crimes perpetrated by law firms, lawyers,
public defenders, public prosecutors, judges and juries; bad behavior that is
rampant throughout our legal system. When he fights a particular flaw in our
legal system, as he does in almost every one of the novels he has written, we
are not at all surprised by the revelations he offers. We know that the system
can be fair and that it can be corrupt, and we suspect that it is corrupt more
often than it is fair. John Grisham also likes lawyers who are loners, who work
on the fringes of the system in small offices and shopping malls. His main
character is often a principled lawyer who fights the system when corruption
has taken over and made it difficult for folks to get justice.
In his newest book, Rogue
, we meet Sebastian Rudd, a street lawyer. He does not have a
stationary office. His office is in the back of a tricked out van. He defends
people who no one else wants to defend because of their obvious guilt or because
s/he has been declared guilty by a system that is often only too glad to jump
to conclusions. The first client we meet in the book is Gardy, probably an
innocent man who the system has already decided, with almost no evidence, is
guilty. Sebastian (Grisham) wants Gardy to have a fair trial but in the very
small town where the crime was committed a fair trial will be almost
impossible. Sebastian, because feelings are running high, stays in different
motel rooms at some distance from the town changing motels as often as
Mr. Rudd says, “The truth is, if I had the money, the time,
and the personnel, I would bribe
and/or intimidate every juror. When the State, with its limitless resources,
commences a fraudulent case and cheats at every turn, then cheating is
legitimized. There is no level playing field. There is no fairness. The only
honorable alternative for a lawyer fighting to save an innocent client is to
cheat defense.
However, if a defense lawyer is caught cheating, he or she
gets nailed with sanctions by the court, reprimanded by the state bar
association, maybe even indicted. If a prosecutor gets caught cheating, he
either gets reelected or elevated to the bench. Our system never holds a bad
prosecutor accountable.”
And this is not the only claim Sebastian Rudd, our rogue
lawyer, levels against the system. We follow him and his
partner/bodyguard/driver cleverly named Partner as he tackles several
interesting cases each an example of ways that people in positions of power
have found to use and abuse their position to the detriment of our entire legal
system. In one of his cases we have the Renfro’s, victims of a commando style
police raid on the wrong house, who face jail time because the police will
never admit that they were wrong in their intelligence and that their arrest
procedures were drastically over-the-top. In another case he was the lawyer for
a ganged up guy named Link who is on death row when he manages to escape using
his guys on the outside and who now wants his lawyer, Sebastian Rudd, to pay
him back all the fees he paid to the lawyer because he was not successful in
his defense of Link.
We have an ex-wife who is always trying to terminate Rudd’s
brief visitations with his son (his job is quite dangerous). We have the MMA
fighter who goes from being under Rudd’s patronage to being his client in a
self-destructive moment. And although this book is short and has a lot of white
space it still manages to get us involved in Sebastian Rudd’s life and to
remind us of how easy it is for our legal system to go off the rails. Except
for these lone fighters that John Grisham presents us with, we are given few
clues about how to reform the system. Still I leave each of Grisham’s novels
full of righteous anger about how the law is being twisted into something far
less that the ideals the system was set up to offer.
By Nancy Brisson

Gray Mountain by John Grisham – Book

is not John Grisham’s best literary effort but he always
delivers the dirt on the “bad actors” amongst us. I watched The Firm this weekend (again) and that
early book still stands out for both its writing (great suspense) and the theme
that has set a fire under John Grisham throughout his career – little people
with big moral fiber pitted against power people, money people, corporate
people who have lost whatever moral compass they once (or never) consulted.
pits a few very small characters against a big coal
industry that is basically so protected by very powerful people that it can
abuse its employees and the people who live in coal country with impunity.
These companies get homeowners to sign contracts which allow the coal company
to buy their land and they promise huge profits which are seldom delivered.
They clear cut mountain tops including valuable hardwoods, strip the mountains
layer by layer from the top down until the last vein of coal is gone and then
they leave the denuded mountains like sulfurous blemishes on a once beautiful
They push their leavings into the valleys often killing people who reside
there or destroying their homes and they do it without compunction. They can
hire the best lawyers so they rarely have to take any financial responsibility
for those they harm. They leave a poisonous concoction of coal slurry in
dammed-up ponds that seeps slowly into ground water and creates cancer zones and
then the coal companies claim that no clear connection can be proven between the
cancer and the bad chemicals in the water. This is what John Grisham is great
at, exposing greed and its attendant crimes against humanity and the planet.

There is a story line and we do meet some pretty good
characters. We meet Samantha, a NYC lawyer, a newbie in a giant law firm who
loses her job in the Great Recession due to downsizing. The law firm, in hope
of recovery, tells Samantha and the other lawyers if lays off that the firm
will pay for their health insurance for one year if they volunteer to work at a
nonprofit. Samantha, while not excited about leaving the city she loves,
eventually chooses an internship at a Legal Aid office in West Virginia, coal
country, the Appalachian Mountains. 
Here she meets Matty, her warm,
experienced, and highly competent new boss who becomes a friend. She also meets
two brothers, one a lawyer, one not, both deeply involved in exposing the sins
of the coal companies and for very personal reasons. Samantha doesn’t seem like
a strong character, but she surprises us as she avoids falling prey to the
charms of these two handsome, but not totally ethical brothers. We certainly
care about what the coal companies are up to and we end up caring about what
Samantha will do also. Whether or not it is great literature, it makes a great
read for a winter weekend.
By Nancy Brisson