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by John Grisham

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-385-54892-2
Publisher: Doubleday

Friends turn foes in this Mississippi mix of courtroom and crime.

In 1960, 12-year-olds Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco are Little League fast-balling all stars and great friends in the Gulf Coast city of Biloxi, Mississippi. They’d love to make it to the big leagues one day, but alas, this story isn’t Field of Dreams. The lads’ lives diverge dramatically: Keith studies hard at Ole Miss, becomes an attorney, and sets up a law practice, while Hugh thrives in a seedy underworld of strip joints, honky-tonks, prostitution, and “unchecked vice” along “the poor man’s Riviera.” The Category 5 Hurricane Camille flattens Biloxi in 1969 and gives Keith many clients from cheated insurance policyholders. Unfortunately, Camille doesn’t clean up the local underworld so much as rearrange it. So Keith decides to run for district attorney and put criminals behind bars. At first, corrupt county sheriff Fats Bowman isn’t worried. “Need I remind you,” he tells his gang, “that the graveyard is full of politicians who promised to clean up the Coast?” But he and Hugh soon feel the heat from Keith, and they fight back hard. Plenty of murders stoke the story’s engine, naturally leading to courthouse scenes where the author excels. But how far will Hugh Malco go to keep Biloxi dirty and profitable? He wouldn’t try to hurt his old pal, would he? This is a multigenerational tale also starring Keith’s and Hugh’s fathers, Jesse and Lance. Perhaps because the novel spans decades, a lot of material feels like summary—readers quickly learn that many residents are of Croatian descent, and there are barely enough mentions of Black people to acknowledge their existence. The interpersonal dynamics make the story, because attentive readers will suss where the plot is going from a country mile away. For one thing, it’s a straight line save for one humongous surprise. But the author is always an engaging storyteller even when he could add another twist or two.

Not vintage Grisham but still a worthy yarn.