By Doc Lawrence
He’s published 30 novels since A Time To Kill in 1989 and still churns out thrillers that don’t shy away from institutionalized injustice and unfairness in the criminal justice system. The Whistler (Doubleday 2016) is set in the Big Bend and Panhandle of Florida with a spellbinding saga of a hopelessly corrupt, high-rolling Florida judge who has been living off bribes from an organized crime syndicate that literally purchased her in order to take over the gambling operations of a casino on an Indian reservation.
Along with the crooked judge, the tribe’s poor but innocent members have prospered. A tribal leader has been framed in a bogus murder trial presided over by her honor and is awaiting execution at Florida’s infamous Raiford Penitentiary in rural Starke. Two good people, Lacy and Hugo work for a state commission charged with exposing bad apple judges. A complaint is filed against this party-girl judge that they, unaware of the perils that await them, investigate.
Grisham, who has a very sophisticated palate, takes readers on the chase for justice with stops for fresh Florida seafood-very plentiful in the area-with wines like Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France that pair very well with legendary Apalachicola Oysters.
There is a murder and a budding love story. A key witness goes missing. But Grisham, true to all his previous works, doesn’t need to fluff a good plot with gratuitous bedroom scenes. Although the barriers seem at times insurmountable, determined well-intentioned people seeking justice provide thrills that only a strong heart can handle.
The Whistler displays quite a bit of knowledge about locale. Florida State University and Tallahassee have a role along with a mythical Indian tribe that reminds me of one actually in the Panhandle, the Muscogee, a bona fide tribe recognized by the U.S. Department of Interior. The highlighted cities on the Gulf Coast confirm that Grisham has done some traveling and feasting in the area.
John Grisham is not only a top-selling author but also an effective social critic. A lawyer himself, he understands the unconscionable harm of a broken criminal justice system and throughout his career has refused to let big money in towers of power off the hook.