“I started dreaming of getting rich, which, in Florida anyway, can lead to serious trouble”: another blockbuster in the making from Grisham (Rogue Lawyer, 2015, etc.), the ascended master of the legal procedural.
If justice is blind, it is also served, in theory, by incorruptible servants. Emphasize “in theory,” for as Grisham’s latest opens, judicial investigator Lacy Stoltz is confronted with the unpleasant possibility that a highly regarded judge may be on the take. The charge comes, discreetly, from a former lawyer–turned-jailbird-turned-lawyer again, who spins out a seemingly improbable tale of racketeering that weds the best elements of Gulf Coast society with the worst, from the brilliant legal minds of Tallahassee to some very unpleasant lads once styled as the Catfish Mafia, now reborn in an alt-version, the Coast Mafia. Lacy’s brief is to find out just how rotten the rotten judge is—and the answer is plenty. Naturally, this knowledge is not acquired without cost; the body count rises, bad things happen to good people, and for a time, at least, the villains get away with murder and more. Grisham has never been strong on characterization: Lacy, we learn, is content to be single, “to live alone, to sleep in the center of the bed, to clean up only after herself,” and so forth, but beyond that the reader doesn’t get much sense of what drives her to put herself in the way of flying bullets and sneering counsel: “His associate was Ian Archer, an unsmiling sort who refused to shake hands with anyone and reeked of surliness.” In laid-back Florida? Indeed, and in Grisham’s busy hands, a lot of players come and go, some fated to sleep with the manatees.
Yes, it’s formula. Yes, it’s not as gritty an exercise in swamp mayhem as Hiaasen, Buchanan, or Crews might turn in. But, like eating a junk burger, even though you probably shouldn’t, it’s plenty satisfying.