Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Reviews: The Whistler

The Whistler
by John Grisham
I usually like a lot of Grisham's work. Like many other former lawyers or legal experts who have become thriller or mystery authors he is able to build excitement around oft boring judicial proceedings or explain legal esoterica to those of us who didn't go to law school. This book wasn't among his most worthy creations though. The Whistler starts out in the familiar Grisham style. Two investigators for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct, Lacy Stolz and Hugo Hatch, receive information regarding potential judicial corruption. They follow up on it. But they're not expecting anything big. Although they are lawyers and work for the state they have no arrest powers and don't carry weapons. They investigate judges. The most dangerous things they normally encounter in their daily labor are nasty insults from $800/hr defense attorneys or empty threats from angered judges. Lacy and Hugo don't make a lot of money in their job.

Neither of them earns much more than $60,000/year. Lacy is single and quite attractive. Hugo is married with a growing family. The two co-workers are close. Not in THAT way. Lacy babysits for her partner and his wife from time to time. But the stakes of Lacy's and Hugo's job are usually pretty small. At worst a particularly venal judge might be indicted and convicted of a crime and serve a few years. That's pretty rare. Prosecutors and judges don't like to take down fellow big shots. Usually what happens is that a judge is censured, forced to resign, reassigned, fined or perhaps disbarred. But this case is different. Their contact, a man calling himself Greg Myers, claims to know of a corrupt judge who has stolen more money than all judges, ever. And the judge is involved in worse crimes. Disbarment or fines wouldn't be appropriate for this judge. These are federal crimes with real penalties.

Myers, through certain cutouts, claims to represent a whistle blower who has been assiduously collecting evidence of the judge's crimes. Myers has his own shady past. He's a previously disbarred lawyer who has spent time in prison. He swears he's on the straight and narrow now though. 

I don't know if this was Grisham's intent but Myers reminded me of Lefty the letter salesman on Sesame Street. Myers is paranoid, won't tell anyone the whole story, doesn't want to have any contact with the FBI, and is literally always looking over his shoulder. Based on Myers' information, which is passed along from the whistleblower, Lacy and Hugo start their own investigation. The law requires that they have to initiate one when they have a sworn statement. This investigation is centered on a Native American casino and a female circuit judge , Claudia McDover. It includes allegations of casino skimming, real estate based money laundering, murder for hire, perjured testimony at a death penalty trial, and several other crimes. But when Lacy and Hugo have an "accident" on the reservation, Lacy knows that Myers was telling the truth. There is a "Coast Mafia" working with the judge behind the scenes. And they play for keeps. Once she recovers Lacy redoubles her investigative efforts. This time she has the full backing of her previously skeptical boss and an interested FBI strike force. 

This formulaic book was ok. The bad guys are not quite bad enough for my tastes. The Big Bad is built up to remind the reader of Keyser Soze but ends up coming across like Barney Fife. The bad guys make some serious mistakes, most of which involve killing the wrong people. And afterwards they're nearly impotent. There is some nice misdirection as to how the criminals are getting all of their information. And speaking of information for most of the book the reader doesn't know who the whistleblower is. Once I found out I was a little let down. The Whistler offers some humor, mostly involving Lacy's bossy and overprotective older brother. And there are some gripping scenes when the whistle blower realizes that someone has been in their house. But the whistle blower's motivations didn't seem strong enough to me. If you're looking for a realistic heroine, one who relies on her wits and not guns or brute force, this might be a good read for you. I thought this book was a little longer than it needed to be. This is a good book to read if you are in an airport or doctor's office or auto dealership and you just need to mentally escape. It had its moments. But I didn't think it was super memorable. Comfort reading.
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