Review: The Whistler by John Grisham

isbn9781444791143-detail.jpgA great premise deserves better than this by-the-numbers rendition of a high-stakes investigation into judicial misconduct. The front cover promises an electrifying thriller, but Grisham’s latest doesn’t even spark.

Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, is confronted with the possibility that a highly regarded judge may be on the take. According to an enigmatic and indicted lawyer who is representing a clandestine whistle-blower, Claudia McDover is in league with organised crime. If the whistle-blower’s accusations prove correct, that would make McDover the most corrupt judge in US history. As Grisham makes abundantly clear: Stotlz and her colleagues are not cops. They don’t carry guns, they don’t deal with traditional bad guys; they root out corruption. Which means they’re totally unprepared for the dangers that await them.

The Whistler suffers from a distinct lack of thrills and gusto. There is one moment – one – genuinely shocking event, maybe 100 pages into proceedings… and that’s it. Then the novel reverts to form, and plays out just as readers will expect. It’s a little infuriating that Grisham does so little with such a potentially intriguing plot. There are minimal twists – if any – and the prose is so dry it could be sandpaper. Everything is telegraphed, and bizarrely, the novel reads like this was intentional; like Grisham made the stylistic choice. I just don’t understand it. There’s still something enthralling about the plot — a part of me thinks I retained interest because I assumed another dramatic moment was looming, which never eventuated, but kept me turning the pages — but that might be a little harsh. For all my criticism, The Whistler is a book I finished over a couple of nights.

Lacy Stoltz, the protagonist, is impressively fearless, but also rote: we never really understand what drives her, and the few glimpses we have into her life are fairly uninspired. Let me paint you a picture: she’s single, not really interested in a relationship; but is attractive enough to turn heads; lives alone with her dog; very career-focused. None of these traits are bad, you understand; but they’re not nuanced, or massaged into her personality. They are quite literally just stated on the page, and that’s about the limit of her characterisation.

Grisham’s insight into legal proceedings is, as always, highly captivating — but it’s not enough to sustain this tepid thriller. An unfortunate misstep for the multi-million copy bestseller. I’ll be interested to see what his legion of fans think. Am I alone in my reservations? I think I’ll re-read The Client or The Pelican Brief — heck, maybe even my old favourite The Street Lawyer — just to remind myself how good Grisham can be.

ISBN: 9781444791143
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 25-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

5 thoughts on “Review: The Whistler by John Grisham

  1. I stopped reading Grisham went he wrote some baseball book that I didn’t even vaguely understand. It’s weird as he was a bit of a trailblazer back in the day!

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