The Racketeer -

Contemporary fiction has it easy. All of the backstory, including pieces of equipment, structure or organization, are pre-constructed and readily available. The story can be told with the milieu mostly already prepared. In contrast, in the fantasy and science fiction genres, all of these elements cannot be taken for granted and have to be built in the narrative. Hence, when one picks up a book such as this, the expectation is for a quicker read with not much work required to imagine the locales and situations.

After recently enjoying Grisham's The Associate, I approached The Racketeer with eager expectation, even dropping such books as Bowl of Heaven and The Hydrogen Sonata, for it seemed the author was getting his mojo back. So it was that I was anticipating a work product that hearkened back to The Firm (1991), but instead found a tough slog through a meandering story that failed to engage. The saving grace was, as always, Grisham's fluid and impellent writing style that, like the prose of the thriller writer Robert B. Parker and science fiction's Joe Haldeman, encourages one to keep on reading with the promise of more consequential things to come.

Three aspects of the book that did not work for me: (1) a first person viewpoint that tried hard to be that of an African American - throughout the book, Grisham keeps reminding us, and perhaps himself, that this is a black person's narrative and thus "I have a a unique world view", to a level that seemed unnatural and self-conscious; (2) a convoluted plot that required much background construction and explanation that did not lend to the author's flowing style - hence, instead of providing ambiance and situational setup, the author appears to pluck items from thin air and use those as rationale and character motivation; (3) presenting the story in the form of a magician's trick, telling readers one thing while planning an entirely different denouement, which would have been neat but this is a challenging trick to work in the literary sense - the book's ending is basically an explanation of what really happened versus what the author tried to weave for about three quarters of the book, a generally unnecessary explanation.

In any case, those who stay on until the final chapters will be rewarded with a nice bowtie. This is a feel-good book where the protagonist is much, much smarter and more devious, and luckier, than everyone else and delivers a just comeuppance upon such stodgy government entities as the FBI and INS.