No one can refute the lasting success of John Grisham as a storyteller. As the author of thirty one novels and sales in the many millions, he enjoys an ardent following of readers, besotted by the fast-moving plotlines, most often exposing some of the fascinating nooks and crannies of the US criminal justice system (though my personal favourite is unrelated to the law – “A Painted House”). Rarely retracing his steps, one must admire too, the author’s originality as well as professional longevity.
As Grisham divulges in the ‘author’s note’, the kernel of this latest book grew from a magazine article by Paul Campos lamenting “The Law School Scam”. A system that apparently preys on the aspirations of wannabe student lawyers, lured by the prospect of a well-paid career, which will never be realised by the majority, yet burden the recipients with mountainous debts, is potentially scandalous and ripe for the Grisham spotlight.
Cue four student friends approaching their final semester at the sub-prime ‘Foggy Bottom Law School’. Each is tending a debt of around $200K and has a ‘handler’ keen to establish a repayment plan. As realisation hits that job prospects are poor and only 50% are predicted to even pass the bar exam, the bleak future calls for radical measures. The friends identify that they have been scammed by the system and wealthy vested interests and embark on a naïve, but bold, scam of their own.
There is something endearing about the youngsters blundering around in an environment, until recently, a hypothetical arena of law. Surrounded by the more hardened beasts of the jungle, however, they have the audacity of youth and an inventiveness born of necessity. For the reader, there is also something enjoyable about the clear underdog blowing a metaphorical raspberry in the face of the establishment. Perhaps it panders to romantic notions of Robin Hood-esque wealth redistribution, or the victim turning the tables on the ‘real’ criminals, but it is a compelling cocktail and one that the author exploits to the full.
Grisham is a master of the suspenseful, thrilling story and the pace and weave of the unfolding strands is beguiling. I don’t think this book is as dramatic as a number of the author’s other novels. Nor are the relationships as convincing. The ending also reminded me of the movie, “Trading Places”. Yet, for all that, it was a compelling read that I've happily skipped through in ‘holiday-read’ fashion.
It is hard not to have a sneaking regard for life’s rebels and though the central characters are hardly white-collar musketeers, their ‘all for one and one for all’ approach has the reader willing them to ‘beat’ the system. For Mr Grisham, another book and another bestseller no doubt, albeit not his best.
The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
Starts out with the Frasier house, it's Christmas and the mother is busy with festive decorations and music.
The father had left them moving on to a new woman who he had pregnanted.
Louie was on house arrest. Mark, the older was back from lawyer school but headinb ack to school for final semester. They all have their burdens and struggles.
Story follows a buddy of Mark and Todd and Zolta. They all attempted to watch over Gordie, he was off his meds, going to marry Brenda in several months and he jumped off the bridge instead.
Love the conspiracy wall and info on thumb drives, priceless!
Zola's parents are being deported-she's legal but they are not, heading back to Sengal.
Very interesting schemers and how they get away with claiming to be lawyers...
Every angle covered, love reading this author.
There are four very close friends, Gordie, Todd, Mark and Zola, who are disillusioned after attending a poorly rated law school. When Gordie commits suicide, the other three are at loose ends. Although they are about to graduate from this rotten school, they have no prospect of a job, and they can not repay their accumulated debts. They discover that their despondent, deceased friend had been doing research on a swindler who was connected to their school, their loans and several companies that were making money by enticing students with false promises of successful futures. It seems that most of the students were unqualified, unemployable, unprepared and unable to pass the bar upon graduation. Massive fraud was taking place under a legal umbrella.
Since their future seemed bleak, they decided to leave law school and begin their own fraudulent practice of law. In this way, the author seems to be attempting to show the corruption of our legal system and those involved in all aspects of it. The reader meets crooked lawyers, negligent judges, and there is certainly no shortage of criminals introduced, who are being taken advantage of by the system that is supposed to protect them. The fact that they have committed crimes is given little importance when compared to the impossible bureaucracy they are required to face.
After trying their hands at practicing law without licenses, being discovered and just managing to barely outrun the authorities, the three surviving friends decide to try another avenue. They go after the man who is at the top of the fraudulent scheme their friend uncovered. They seem very cavalier and unrealistic about the nature of their own fraudulent behavior, the danger they face and the consequences of their actions. They don’t seem to believe that they will ever be caught or held responsible for their actions, although they daily compound their wrongdoing.
At the same time as they are engaged in these criminal activities, one of the friends, whose family came into the United States illegally almost three decades ago, from Senegal, discovers that her family has been caught and is going to be deported. She is not in any danger, having been born in America. This part of the book proceeds to seemingly expose some of the many diverse problems in our immigration system, as the family is shipped back, unceremoniously, to a country that is corrupt and not only doesn’t want them back, but resents their return and is known for its brutality toward returning citizens.
The author admits that he has taken many liberties in his presentation, and I felt as if the book not only made a mockery of our government, its agencies, our lawyers and our immigration and justice system, a bit unfairly, but it also seemed to hold no criminal accountable for the behavior that got them into trouble. I felt as if it was only the system that was being judged rather than those who had become trapped within it through their own actions. It took on the feeling of a fairy tale without any prospect of the novel ever approaching reality. It also took forever for the book to make its point. Those who were victims of their own irresponsible behavior came out as the winners, unscathed by their heinous behavior. Poor behavior was rewarded and most of the characters had no character!
There are some good things in the "The Rooster Bar", enough of them that I read the book right to the end in the hope that it would be worth my time. It wasn't.
"The Rooster Bar" starts well. John Grisham quickly got me immersed in the pressure cooker lives of four for-profit Law School students, groaning under a mountain of debt and with little prospect of getting a job that would enable them to pay it back. He used the instability and obsession of the most charismatic of the four to lay-out the "Great Law School Scam" without making it feel like a clumsy infodump and then added a trauma to hook my emotions and make me care.
I relaxed and waited for some kind of clever and cathartic revenge to be extracted in a sort of "The Firm 2.O" way.
Grisham kept my attention and my emotional involvement by adding in a plot about how ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) the Storm Troopers of Homeland Security works.
This felt real and got the point across without sounding preachy. The shame of failing to treat people with dignity was made clear.
After that... well, the whole thing fell apart but slowly enough that I never quite gave up hope.
My main problem was that I didn't like and couldn't bring myself to care about the two emotionally distant, testosterone-driven, arrogant and amoral white boys who were positioned as the heroes of the piece.
Their reaction to having let their greed ensnare them in a potentially life-ruining scam was to scam everyone else. They commit crime after crime to make money, sustained by a sort of frat-boy belief that guys like them will never suffer the consequences of their actions. They were called Todd and Mark and I couldn't really tell them apart except that one (I can't remember which) was more willing to help a friend in trouble.
It seems that I was supposed to be cheering for these two would-be alpha male lawyers to out-smart the authorities, get revenge on the bad guys and ride off into a Tequilla-sustained sunset. Personally, I'd have been happy to see them both take their punishment.
Todd and Mark are the moral vacuum at the heart of this book. They're clever, resourceful, hard-working, brave but ruthless and willing to break any law to get their own way.
I could have lived with the moral vacuum if the book had ended with a great reveal or a clever, Mission Impossible slick finish but It didn't. Instead, it slid gently to a stop as it ran out of momentum and I ran out of sympathy.