Book review: The Whistler


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.

Book review: my verdict on The Verdict


In Nick Stone’s The Verdict, a law clerk in Britain must defend an old enemy on charges of murdering a blonde in his hotel suite.  The clerk, Terry, decides to defend the suspect, VJ, as best as he can despite being burned by him 20 years earlier.  The defense team’s investigation takes Terry on a wild ride through the streets of London, dodging bullets and working with a colorful and sleazy investigator.

This is a well told story that keeps you guessing.  Is VJ’s story true or did he kill the blonde?  The investigation points in one direction, but will trial go the same way?  What were the reasons for Terry and VJ’s falling out and will they reconcile?  When will Terry’s law firm fire him?  The answers are expertly woven together throughout the course of the book.

In addition to the suspense, there are two other compelling aspects of the book.  First, the trial itself is engrossing.  Although we are familiar with the details of the investigation by the time the trial begins, Stone writes the lawyers’ opening statements, questions to the witnesses, and closing arguments in a way that keeps surprising us.

Secondly, Terry’s character is very well developed.  The book is told from his point of view.  Terry is very frank and personal with the readers about his own failings and past.  We learn more about him through the novel than his wife knows about him.  Because of that, you will feel closer to him than you may feel toward most protagonists in contemporary thrillers.

On the downside, the book is long.  It took me three times longer to read this compared to other thrillers I’ve read lately.  There were a few implausible scenes in Part III of the novel that didn’t work for me.  The trial does not begin until three-quarters of the way through the novel, so calling this a “courtroom drama” is misleading.  There is also a confusing B-story that related to the main story but didn’t add much to it.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it Grisham fans, speed readers, and Anglophiles.