Most of Grisham's novels have the legal system, in some capacity, at the centre. Corruption, murder, and lies also feature heavily and they form the core of this novel too. Lacy Stotlz and Hugo Hatch are investigative lawyers who work for the Florida state government, in a small department called the Board On Judicial Conduct (BJC). This body investigates judicial misconduct by judges, and is kept surprisingly busy. There is considerable uneasiness at the thought of those at the top of the judicial chain, passing judgement on others, who themselves are guilty of many and various sins. Lacy and Hugo are contacted by an indicted lawyer, Greg Myers, the middleman for a whistle blower, who has evidence of massive corruption involving local judge Claudia McDover, organised crime, the building of a casino on Indian Reservation land, money laundering, murder, and wrongful imprisonment. It is up to Lacy and Hugo to firstly, ascertain if there is case to be made, then file the claim of misconduct, and thirdly, begin the process of unravelling it.
At first I thought this would be a routine sort of whodunit, the good guys finally unveiling the bad guys, and untangling the enormous spider's web that had been so carefully constructed by the baddies. And for the first hundred pages this is how it went. Then bam, a shocking thing happens. The action winds up several notches, people disappear, there is uncertainty as to who can and cannot be trusted, the tension becomes palpable. Can the BJC topple the house of cards before it is toppled? The author's extensive legal knowledge is strewn throughout the story, but at no time does it dominate or detract from the story line. Plus he has the gift of simplifying the legal system and jargon for the lay reader as the race to expose the judge before she and her associates can escape.
As with most of John Grisham's novels, we are reading about the depravity of human behaviour and how low people will go to get what they want. And it is not just the baddies. The whistleblower, when finally exposed, is also guilty of self interest. I was struck at how deep corruption claws into one's soul, how greedy people become on glimpsing the riches in their reach, and how easily people can be corrupted or turned. It is a gripping page turner of a read, I really liked it, and with holidays coming up I might just read another.