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Grisham's twisty 'Racketeer' keeps readers riveted

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 9:04 p.m.

REVIEW

“Let's make a deal” isn't a game show, it's a con game in John Grisham's latest legal thriller.

And if all goes according to plan, “The Racketeer's” Malcolm Bannister is going to game his way out of a federal prison camp in Frostburg, Md.

Halfway through a 10-year sentence for a crime he did not commit, Bannister, 43, a former attorney for an African-American law firm in Winchester, Va., may have hit the jackpot when it comes to holding all the cards.

A federal judge and his mistress have been found murdered in an isolated mountain cabin. Their bodies are discovered in the basement near a behemoth-sized safe that's now empty.

Investigators have no idea who committed the crimes, but Bannister does — and he knows what was in the safe. He'll tell all if the feds let him walk free.

But as in any decent thriller, that's not all there is to the story. The wrongly convicted Bannister may start out looking like a patsy, but he's got more leverage, more tactical skills and employs more strategic thinking than the FBI can muster as it considers giving him a deal.

The best thing about “The Racketeer” comes, in part, from an appreciation for the time and calculated thinking that Grisham, the author of more than a dozen legal thrillers, has invested in his clever, twisty plot. You know something big is going on, you just can't fathom what it is.

Few people, if any, will figure out what Bannister is really up to until Grisham neatly ties it up with a bow in the closing pages. And the clues, schemes and conspiracies, more colorful than the gaudiest prison jumpsuit, feed a story line that gets additional octane from drugs, bribery, sex, corruption and one of Grisham's favorite plot threads, corporate greed.

This is the kind of story that built Grisham's reputation as a lion of the literary thriller. “The Racketeer” is guilty of only one thing: keeping us engaged until the very last page.

Carol Memmott is a staff writer for USA Today.

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