Book review: The Whistler

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The Whistler by John Grisham

I enjoyed this legal thriller.  I figured that lawyers investigating a corrupt judge would be an interesting angle on the legal profession, and it was.

The judicial conduct investigators are Lacy and Hugo.  As they near the truth, their lives are in danger from a shadowy Gulf Coast syndicate.

I complain when books have too many characters.  The Whistler had many characters, but for some reason this was not a problem for me this time.  It may be because Grisham’s writing style is very lucid.  I never felt confused by who he was talking about.  The characters were crisply drawn, and the scenes and their motives were well defined, so the characters didn’t blur together.  One character in particular was very colorful—Lacy’s pugnacious real estate investor brother, Gunther.

That being said, there is probably one character that could have been cut.  Feeding information to Lacy and Hugo are three layers of snitches.  There is a mole, an intermediary, and an ex-con lawyer conveying information from the intermediary.  I was never quite sold on the need for three characters to be involved, when this could have been condensed fairly easily into two characters.

A number of Goodreads reviewers have suggested that the writing is good and the plot is fine, but that there’s a “missing spark” in this book, although they can’t put their finger on what it is.  I’d venture to say that it may have to do with a lack of conflict among the main, “good” characters.  Lacy and Hugo never bump heads.  Lacy and her boss Geismar have different approaches on how the investigation should proceed, but they never have a major difference.  Lacy’s love life is totally vanilla and progresses without fireworks toward the second half.  All the conflict is on the side of the villains/antagonists.  I think that the lack of a conflict or a personal transformation in Lacy’s life is probably how the air leaked out of this book’s balloon.

As usual, Grisham serves up various flavors of the South, with scenes in different cities throughout Florida, but also Mobile, Valdosta, and Mississippi.  Comments about race, real estate development, management of Indian casinos, and how organized crime in the South are all included.

Without spoiling anything, I would say that the ending was satisfying enough and brought closure to most of the plot elements.  However, there is a related case in the book about a wrongfully convicted inmate.  How things end up for him doesn’t really get spelled out.

The Whistler is nothing too deep, and everything comes together a bit too smoothly in the end, but it is still a pleasurable read with justice served.

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