The Whistler by John Grisham (Doubleday, 2016)
If I had to choose one word to describe a John Grisham novel, it would be engaging. From the first page, Grisham introduces well drawn characters with whom the reader empathizes or loathes, depending on whether they are the heroes or villains. Once again, Grisham lures us in with an unusual glimpse into the complex maze of American jurisprudence in the sultry Southern air.
In the case of Grisham's latest thriller, The Whistler, the main character is an independent, young woman, Lacy Stoltz, who is an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. Grisham's books often tackle topics in the legal system, but the issue of corruption among one of America's most venerated professions, the judiciary, is unusual, eye opening, and quite frankly a little scary as most of us accept that those who preside over the courts are ethically at the top of the heap. As an investigator for the BJC, Lacy is a lawyer, but her job has never entailed danger before, nor did she ever expected it to be that way.
However, the safety net is pulled out from under Lacy's feet when she is contacted by an interesting character, who has dubbed himself Greg Myers, a new identity to conceal a checkered past. A salty dog, Myers lives aboard his boat, The Conspirator, and drifts around the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, with his girlfriend, Carlita. Myers has called Lacy and her partner, Hugo Hatch, upon the request of a legal client who has asked him to reach out to the BJC on a potentially explosive case.
“This is a long story that will take some time to unfold. It involves a ton of money, corruption that is astonishing, and some really nasty guys who wouldn't think twice about putting a bullet or two between my eyes, yours, my client's, anyone who asks too many questions,” (p. 11) Myers says when he first meets the BJC representatives.
Surprised, but certainly intrigued, Lacy urges Myers to continue his business proposition. His client has decided that he wants to pursue a claim against the organization under the Florida Whistleblower Statute, hoping for the ultimate prize of millions of dollars for information. In a life that has been sedate up to this point, Myer's invitation to open an investigation with such enormous and possibly dangerous stakes, is too dicey from which to walk away.
Myers heightens the invitation by adding that his story involves, “More dirty cash than all the others combined. It also involves bribery, extortion, intimidation, rigged trials, at least two murders, and one wrongful conviction. There's a man rotting away on death row a hour from here who was framed.” (p. 14) Of course, the plot ploy of the innocent man on Death Row heightens the stakes for all of us who harbor distrust of fairness when it comes to inmates facing the ultimate penalty.
Myers then tosses in the name of the alleged syndicate, the Catfish Mafia, and casts out his line to reel in the BJC, stating, “The question is simply this: Does the Board on Judicial Conduct want to investigate the most corrupt judge in the history of American jurisprudence?” (p.15)
Lacy and Hugo's answer catapults them into a wild ride that will lead to imminent danger, a mire of corrupted individuals, and the inclusion in all of it of casinos run by a formerly indigent tribe of Native Americans called the Tappacola. Unusual in its scope, with a cast of characters that repel and attract the reader, Grisham continues to intrigue his audience with continuing excellence in plot and character development as he has from the publication of his first blockbuster, A Time to Kill.