What should we think of whistle blowers, in the political sense of the term? Are they the good guys or the betrayers? For example, what should we think of Chelsea/Bradley Manning or Mr. Snowden, or for that matter Julian Assange? Do they provide a useful service to a democracy of exposing corruption at high levels of government? Should we applaud? Or as they bottom feeders, scum, Judas in disguise, but in this case with diamonds?
John Grisham is a master of writing thrillers, and his 2016 contribution, The Whistler is certainly an enjoyable, if depressing read. It’s all about exposing the Coast Mafia, organized crime in bed with the gambling enterprise of the Tappacola Indians in northern Florida. I would rate this novel as not on the same shelf as his top efforts, including such recent efforts as Gray Mountain, and I have read the vast majority of his some 37 novels. But this is a good yarn, and excellent for vacation reading. The staple of Grisham story telling is to provide you with some person or persons you can really empathize with and care about what happens to them. In this case, that person is Lacy Stolz who works for the Florida Judicial Review Board, and her partner Hugo Hatch. Another necessary ingredient for the Grisham grist mill is SOME REALLY BAD DUDES. The fear and loathing they generate is an essential part of the story telling. You want these people to go down and go down hard if you care about justice at all. Two more ingredients are essential. The last 50-100 pages need to be on fast forward once the reveal has happened. However slowly the first 200 or so pages percolate along (and in the Whistler, they are pretty much on mosy, to use a Southern expression), the ending needs to be on fast forward. Grisham doesn’t usually recycle characters and settings (though see Sycamore Row) so if you get attached to a character, you need to view it as like speed dating with an expiration date. Nonetheless its fun. And of course the main ingredient is Grisham’s knowledge of the law and legal processes. Very few fiction writers in our era can touch him on that kind of knowledge. It’s one thing to know police work, its another thing to actually know the law and lawyers from the inside, as Grisham does.
I thoroughly enjoyed the 374 pages of this quick read. It is diverting, it is informative, its a cheap date and I recommend it. But more compelling of the recent Grisham ouevre is Gray Mountain. Now that one will grab you by the short hairs and never let go, with a surprise a minute. It’s your choice.