The Racketeer
  • The Racketeer
  • The Racketeer

The Racketeer

3.8 1047
by John Grisham

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The Racketeer is guilty of only one thing: keeping us engaged until the very last page.”—USA Today
In the history of the United States, only four active federal judges have been murdered. Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five. His body…  See more details below


The Racketeer is guilty of only one thing: keeping us engaged until the very last page.”—USA Today
In the history of the United States, only four active federal judges have been murdered. Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five. His body is found in his remote lakeside cabin. There is no sign of forced entry or struggle. Just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.
One man, a former attorney, knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and why. But that man, Malcolm Bannister, is currently residing in the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland. Though serving time, Malcolm has an ace up his sleeve. He has information the FBI would love to know. Malcolm would love to tell them. But everything has a price—and the man known as the Racketeer wasn’t born yesterday.
Praise for The Racketeer
“Exhilarating . . . surprising . . . ingenious.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“A satisfying, deeply engrossing thriller in which different forms of justice are ultimately served.”—The Washington Post
“Fast-paced . . . with enough startling plot twists—and changes of scenery, from Miami to Montego Bay and beyond—to surprise even the most suspicious reader.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Tautly plotted.”—Entertainment Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

The narrator of this John Grisham's legal thriller is in a place where no lawyer ever wants to be: in prison. For the time being though, he is safe, because staying alive is a major concern when you know the identity of the killer of a murdered federal judge. The Racketeer possesses all the qualities that keep us coming back to the acknowledged master of a major subgenre. A number one Barnes & Noble bestseller now in mass-market paperback and NOOK Book.

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Random House Publishing Group
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I am a lawyer, and I am in prison. It's a long story.

I'm forty-three years old and halfway through a ten-year sentence handed down by a weak and sanctimonious federal judge in Washington, D.C. All of my appeals have run their course, and there is no procedure, mechanism, obscure statute, technicality, loophole, or Hail Mary left in my thoroughly depleted arsenal. I have nothing. Because I know the law, I could do what some inmates do and clog up the courts with stacks of worthless motions and writs and other junk filings, but none of this would help my cause. Nothing will help my cause. The reality is that I have no hope of getting out for five more years, save for a few lousy weeks chopped off at the end for good behavior, and my behavior has been exemplary.

I shouldn't call myself a lawyer, because technically I am not. The Virginia State Bar swept in and yanked my license shortly after I was convicted. The language is right there in black and white--a felony conviction equals disbarment. I was stripped of my license, and my disciplinary troubles were duly reported in the Virginia Lawyer Register. Three of us were disbarred that month, which is about average.

However, in my little world, I am known as a jailhouse lawyer and as such spend several hours each day helping my fellow inmates with their legal problems. I study their appeals and file motions. I prepare simple wills and an occasional land deed. I review contracts for some of the white-collar guys. I have sued the government for legitimate complaints but never for ones I consider frivolous. And there are a lot of divorces.

Eight months and six days after I began my time, I received a thick envelope. Prisoners crave mail, but this was one package I could have done without. It was from a law firm in Fairfax, Virginia, one that represented my wife, who, surprisingly, wanted a divorce. In a matter of weeks, Dionne had gone from being a supportive wife, dug in for the long haul, to a fleeing victim who desperately wanted out. I couldn't believe it. I read the papers in absolute shock, my knees rubbery and my eyes wet, and when I was afraid I might start crying, I hustled back to my cell for some privacy. There are a lot of tears in prison, but they are always hidden.

When I left home, Bo was six years old. He was our only child, but we were planning more. The math is easy, and I've done it a million times. He'll be sixteen when I get out, a fully grown teenager, and I will have missed ten of the most precious years a father and son can have. Until they are about twelve years old, little boys worship their fathers and believe they can do no wrong. I coached Bo in T-ball and youth soccer, and he followed me around like a puppy. We fished and camped, and he sometimes went to my office with me on Saturday mornings, after a boys-only breakfast. He was my world, and trying to explain to him that I was going away for a long time broke both our hearts. Once behind bars, I refused to allow him to visit me. As much as I wanted to squeeze him, I could not stand the thought of that little boy seeing his father incarcerated.

It is virtually impossible to fight a divorce when you're in prison and not getting out soon. Our assets, never much to begin with, were depleted after an eighteen-month pounding by the federal government. We had lost everything but our child and our commitment to each other. The child was a rock; the commitment bit the dust. Dionne made some beautiful promises about persevering and toughing it out, but once I was gone, reality set in. She felt lonely and isolated in our small town. "People see me and they whisper," she wrote in one of her first letters. "I'm so lonely," she whined in another. It wasn't long before the letters became noticeably shorter and further apart. As did the visits.

Dionne grew up in Philadelphia and never warmed to life in the country. When an uncle offered her a job, she was suddenly in a hurry to go home. She remarried two years ago, and Bo, now eleven, is being coached by another father. My last twenty letters to my son went unanswered. I'm sure he never saw them.

I often wonder if I will see him again. I think I will make the effort, though I vacillate on this. How do you confront a child you love so much it hurts but who will not recognize you? We are never going to live together again as a typical father and son. Would it be fair to Bo to have his long-lost father reappear and insist on becoming part of his life?

I have far too much time to think about this.

I am inmate number 44861-127 at the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland. A "camp" is a low-security facility for those of us who are deemed nonviolent and sentenced to ten years or less. For reasons that were never made clear, my first twenty-two months were spent at a medium-security joint near Louisville, Kentucky. In the endless alphabet muck of bureau-speak, it is known as an FCI--Federal Correctional Institution--and it was a far different place than my camp at Frostburg. An FCI is for violent men sentenced to more than ten years. Life there is much tougher, though I survived without being physically assaulted. Being a former Marine helped immensely.

As far as prisons go, a camp is a resort. There are no walls, fences, razor wire, or lookout towers and only a few guards with guns. Frostburg is relatively new, and its facilities are nicer than most public high schools. And why not? In the United States we spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate each prison inmate and $8,000 to educate each elementary school student. Here we have counselors, managers, caseworkers, nurses, secretaries, assistants of many varieties, and dozens of administrators who would be hard-pressed to truthfully explain how they fill their eight hours each day. It is, after all, the federal government. The employee parking lot near the front entrance is packed with nice cars and trucks.

There are six hundred inmates here at Frostburg, and, with a few exceptions, we are a well-behaved group of men. Those with violent pasts have learned their lessons and appreciate their civilized surroundings. Those who've spent their lives in prison have finally found the best home. Many of these career boys do not want to leave. They are thoroughly institutionalized and cannot function on the outside. A warm bed, three meals a day, health care--how could they possibly top this out there on the streets?

I'm not implying this is a pleasant place. It is not. There are many men like me who never dreamed they would one day fall so hard. Men with professions, careers, businesses; men with assets and nice families and country-club memberships. In my White Gang there is Carl, an optometrist who tinkered too much with his Medicare billings; and Kermit, a land speculator who double and triple pledged the same properties to various banks; and Wesley, a former Pennsylvania state senator who took a bribe; and Mark, a small-town mortgage lender who cut some corners.

Carl, Kermit, Wesley, and Mark. All white, average age of fifty-one. All admit their guilt.

Then there's me. Malcolm Bannister, black, aged forty-three, convicted of a crime I had no knowledge of committing.

At this moment, at Frostburg, I happen to be the only black guy serving time for a white-collar crime. Some distinction.

In my Black Gang, the membership is not so clearly defined. Most are kids from the streets of D.C. and Baltimore who were busted for drug-related crimes, and when they are paroled, they will return to the streets with a 20 percent chance of avoiding another conviction. With no education, no skills, and a criminal record, how are they supposed to succeed?

In reality, there are no gangs in a federal camp and no violence. If you fight or threaten someone, they'll yank you out of here and send you to a place that's far worse. There is a lot of bickering, mainly over the television, but I have yet to see someone throw a punch. Some of these guys have served time in state prisons, and the stories they tell are horrifying. No one wants to trade this place for another joint.

So we behave as we count the days. For the white-collar guys, the punishment is humiliation and the loss of status, standing, a lifestyle. For the black guys, life in a camp is safer than where they came from and where they're going. Their punishment is another notch on their criminal records, another step in becoming career felons.

Because of this, I feel more white than black.

There are two other ex-lawyers here at Frostburg. Ron Napoli was a flamboyant criminal lawyer in Philadelphia for many years, until cocaine ruined him. He specialized in drug law and represented many of the top dealers and traffickers in the mid-Atlantic region, from New Jersey to the Carolinas. He preferred to get paid in cash and coke and eventually lost everything. The IRS nailed him for tax evasion, and he's about halfway through a nine-year sentence. Ron's not doing too well these days. He seems depressed and will not, under any circumstances, exercise and try to take care of himself. He's getting heavier, slower, crankier, and sicker. He used to tell fascinating stories about his clients and their adventures in narco-trafficking, but now he just sits in the yard, eating bag after bag of Fritos and looking lost. Someone is sending him money, and he spends most of it on junk food.

The third ex-lawyer is a Washington shark named Amos Kapp, a longtime insider and shifty operator who spent a career slinking around the edges of every major political scandal. Kapp and I were tried together, convicted together, and sentenced ten years apiece by the same judge. There were eight defendants--seven from Washington and me. Kapp has always been guilty of something, and he was certainly guilty in the eyes of our jurors. Kapp, though, knew then and knows now that I had nothing to do with the conspiracy, but he was too much of a coward and a crook to say anything. Violence is strictly prohibited at Frostburg, but give me five minutes with Amos Kapp and his neck would be broken. He knows this, and I suspect he told the warden a long time ago. They keep him on the west campus, as far away from my pod as possible.

Of the three lawyers, I'm the only one willing to help other inmates with their legal problems. I enjoy the work. It's challenging and keeps me busy. It also keeps my legal skills sharp, though I doubt if I have much of a future as a lawyer. I can apply for reinstatement to the bar when I'm out, but that can be an arduous procedure. The truth is I never made any money as a lawyer. I was a small-town practitioner, black on top of that, and few clients could pay a decent fee. There were dozens of other lawyers packed along Braddock Street scrambling for the same clients; the competition was rough. I'm not sure what I'll do when this is over, but I have serious doubts about resuming a legal career.

I'll be forty-eight, single, and in good health, hopefully.

Five years is an eternity. Every day I take a long walk, alone, on a dirt jogging trail that skirts the edges of the camp and follows the boundary, or the "line," as it is known. Step over the line, and you're considered an escapee. In spite of being the site of a prison, this is beautiful country with spectacular views. As I walk and gaze at the rolling hills in the distance, I fight the urge to just keep walking, to step over the line. There is no fence to stop me, no guard to yell my name. I could disappear into the dense woods, then disappear forever.

I wish there was a wall, one ten feet tall, made of solid brick, with coils of glistening razor wire along its top, one that would keep me from gazing at the hills and dreaming of freedom. This is a prison, damn it! We can't leave. Put up a wall and stop tempting us.

The temptation is always there, and, as much as I fight it, I swear it's getting stronger by the day.


Frostburg is a few miles west of the town of Cumberland, Maryland, in the middle of a sliver of land that is dwarfed by Pennsylvania to the north and West Virginia to the west and south. Looking at a map, it is obvious this exiled part of the state was the result of a bad survey and shouldn't belong to Maryland at all, though it's not clear who should have ownership. I work in the library, and on the wall above my little desk is a large map of America. I spend too much time gazing at it, daydreaming, wondering how I came to be a federal prisoner in a remote part of far-western Maryland.

Sixty miles south of here is the town of Winchester, Virginia, population twenty-five thousand, the place of my birth, childhood, education, career, and, eventually, The Fall. I am told that little has changed there since I left. The law firm of Copeland & Reed is still doing business in the same storefront shop where I once worked. It's on Braddock Street, in the Old Town, next door to a diner. The name, painted in black on the window, was once Copeland, Reed & Bannister, and it was the only all-black law firm within a hundred miles. I'm told that Mr. Copeland and Mr. Reed are doing well, certainly not prospering or getting rich, but generating enough business to pay their two secretaries and the rent. That's about all we did when I was a partner there--just manage to scrape by. At the time of The Fall, I was having serious second thoughts about surviving in such a small town.

I am told that Mr. Copeland and Mr. Reed refuse to discuss me and my problems. They came within an inch of being indicted too, and their reputations were tarnished. The U.S. Attorney who nailed me was blasting buckshot at anyone remotely connected to his grand conspiracy, and he almost wiped out the entire firm. My crime was picking the wrong client. My two former partners have never committed a crime. On so many levels I regret what has happened, but the slander of their good names still keeps me awake. They are both in their late sixties, and in their younger days as lawyers they struggled not only with the challenge of keeping a small-town general practice afloat but also fought some of the last battles of the Jim Crow era. Judges sometimes ignored them in court and ruled against them for no sound legal reason. Other lawyers were often rude and unprofessional. The county bar association did not invite them to join. Clerks sometimes lost their filings. All-white juries did not believe them. Worst of all, clients did not hire them. Black clients. No white client would hire a black lawyer in the 1970s, in the South anyway, and this still hasn't changed much. But Copeland & Reed nearly went under in its infancy because black folks thought the white lawyers were better. Hard work and a commitment to professionalism changed this, but slowly.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Critical Acclaim for the Undisputed Master of the Legal Thriller

“With every new book I appreciate John Grisham a little more, for his feisty critiques of the legal system, his compassion for the underdog, and his willingness to strike out in new directions.”—Entertainment Weekly

“John Grisham is exceptionally good at what he does—indeed, right now in this country,  nobody does it better . . . Grisham’s books are also smart, imaginative, and funny, populated by complex interesting people, written by a man who is driven not merely by the desire to entertain but also by genuine (if understated) outrage at human cupidity and venality.”—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“The secrets of Grisham’s success are no secret at all. There are two of them: his pacing, which ranges from fast to breakneck, and his theme—little guy takes on big conspiracy with the little guy getting the win in the end. —Time

“The law, by its nature, creates drama, and a new Grisham promises us an inside look at the dirty machineries of process and power, with plenty of an entertainment.” – Los Angeles Times

“John Grisham is about as good a storyteller as we’ve got in the United States these days.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Grisham is a marvelous storyteller who works readers the way a good trial lawyer works a jury.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“John Grisham owns the legal thriller.”—The Denver Post

“John Grisham is not just popular, he is one of the most popular novelists of our time. He is a craftsman and he writes good stories, engaging characters, and clever plots.”—The Seattle Times

“A mighty narrative talent and an unerring eye for hot-button issues.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“A legal literary legend.”—USA Today

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The Racketeer 3.8 out of 5 based on 6 ratings. 1047 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read everyone of mr.grishams books, this book is one of his best.its not bogged down with alot of useless information.keep up the great work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A really good, fun read! Grabs your attention and doesn't let go. Will easily cause you to stay up late, reading. Definitely worth it. Keep up the great work, Mr. Grisham! ~Munchkin
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
John Grisham's books are becoming as boring as James Patterson's. I didn't like the lead character from the beginning--alternated between being whiney or slimey. And it became very obvious early on that he knew way too much about circumventing the law than then simple small town lawyer he claimed to be. This could have been a good book, but was not written with the suspense of Grisham's earlier books. By the end of the book I didn't like any of the characters and only finished the book to finally get closure on what had become an obvious ending.
JoanPA More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Grisham's Books. I bought this one the day it was released and could not put it down. Definately one of the best books I have read in awhile and one of my favorite books of his. It will keep you guessing until the last page. GREAT BOOK!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not really sure how to write my review. Story-very good, length-just right, the rest? not sure. Just didn't feel like the Grisham of old. Hard to explain. Was he just pushing words for money? Enjoyed the book but just not worth the money for this one in my opinion. Left kind of an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Worth reading but wait for the paperback version to save some money on this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read all of Grisham's books and anxiously await his every novel! I started reading this one and the writing felt off. It was as if being told a story by a boring Uncle. It is missing the suspense and texture usually woven into his writing. The final dissappointment was the author's notes in which he proudly claims he "did no research". Eagerly awaiting Mr. Grisham's next novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I want to savor a good book John Grisham never lets me down. I read this book in one afternoon. He is absolutely one of my favorite authors of all time! He has a way of drawing you into the story and keeping you there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did not like it! Choppy, poorly written, implausible, hard to follow. Seems like Mr Grisham did this for the gold only. I allow one mistake so the next book better be back to my expectations of a John Grisham novel or I won't purchase another. Fool me once....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the epilogue the author proudly states he did not do research for this novel. He should have.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I chose a John Grisham book to help me get back into the habit of reading as, in the past, I've found his books to be quick page-turners- hard to put down. This, his latest book, had good reviews and the premise seemed intriguing. Alas, I was largely dissppointed by the book. The plot centers around a lawyer in jail for racketeering who supposedly knows the identity of the murderer of a federal judge. Right off the bat several elements of the plot seemed largely implausible including the claim that the protagonist was more or less innocent of the charges that landed him in jail. More annoying was Grisham's use of the first-person narrative interjected with occassional passages of third-person. In another setting, this might have worked, but here it was clumsy. The storytelling lacked any real excitement - at no time did I ever feel the characters to be in peril. Instead it was the slow, and at times laborius, detailing of a convulted scheme. There are countless passages that read like a travel itinerary as though Grisham was merely trying to fill pages. Two final quibbles: Grisham almost brags in the Author's Note at the end that he did no research for this book. It is painfully obvious in his whole attitude towards the story. I suppose when you are successful as Grisham, you can phone one in from time to time as he does here. My other quibble is that Grisham, who is white, chose to make the protagonist African-American, then write in first person. Ultimately it doesn't ring true leaving us with a character who is neither likable or memorable. Some have called this book a "return to form" for Grisham, but I know he has written much better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Plot is not very credible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read every Ghrisham novel, but this one is a dud. I couldn't get past the first chapter and wish I hadn't pre-ordeted it. Save your $15 for a better read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was getting a little bored with the lawyer John Grisham books but this was unexpected. I really enjoyed this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was just an ok read. Not nearly as good as some of his others. It was an easy read though. If you are looking for a book to pass time and not keep you glued to your nook, this is it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At the end of the book under "Author's Notes" he explains he did no research - it was evident. If you get this book read the first two chapters and the last two. It is my opinion you don't need the rest. I didnt enjoy the plot, nor did I think the characters were developed into anyone i could identify with. Worst book i have read in a while. I was very disappointed and expected better from Grisham.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Grisham's books, some a couple times. This novel is average for him. I can tell he is getting lazy. Some of the characters feel the same as from previous novels. I honestly feel like he is just "riding his name" now. Plus, he botches the first person perspective. You will see what I mean if you read it. 3 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an unusual miss for John Grisham. It was slow going and never really seemed like it was going anywhere. When it finally did pick up, it was pretty anti-climatic. Then it all wraps up in a nice tidy little package in the most formulaic way. Wouldn't recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Drags. Few characters. No tension in the limited plot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I enjoyed all of Mr. Grisham's works, this is my new favorite. Very easy to connect with the main character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This one was hard to put down and it kept me guessing. While paarts of it may stretched the imagination, the plot always snapped back to believable boundaries
RosieRN More than 1 year ago
very mediocre-I expect better from Grisham. Too involved and unbelievable. Disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grisham has become a writing machine, But machines manufacture fast and can malfunction. Sometimes quality suffers. This was a disappointing book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very disappointed in this book.  Just not up to Grisham standards.  Ok if you want to kill some time I guess, but it will be one I can easily forget about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my second novel by this author. The story line was good and keep my attention to the end.I have looked at other comments and since am not an avid fan of Grisham's I don't know his writing style and wasnt disappointment as other fans.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lol! GREAT BOOK, the author totally rocks|•__•|