This work takes an uncomfortably conservative bend I don't remember Grisham espousing in his other books, in that it relies on racist, homophobic and sexist stereotypes which, beyond being morally annoying, betrays laziness in imagination, research, and writing.

Of particular issue is the portrayal of Native American communities. Because of diversity of citizenship, virtually none of the the issues the crooked judge swung are likely to have been filed or, if initially filed, kept in state court. This massive departure from reality makes the poor portrayal of indigenous communities even more frustrating. You want to write about lawyers who investigate state judges and you need a frame for corruption to occur so you picked American Indians, a community that virtually never interacts with state courts and certainly not to the degree implied in the novel because what, you're racist? Probably, since a character literally refers to the tribe at the center of the novel as "an unsophisticated people", a view that is never critiqued by any other character or by the overarching frame of the novel itself. A pivotal character mentions being probably about 1/8 of that tribe and our main character replies, "you don't look the part" to which the first character replies, "thanks." In the denouement the tribe as a whole is viewed as "not entirely blameless" because they re-elected a corrupt chief, and one of the discussion questions included at the end of the book asks (legitimately, based the themes of the novel) how the tribe's laws served to hinder our protagonist's investigation. Taken together the whole novel is a massive, blatant attack on tribal sovereignty that on the way there manages to smear women (particularly lesbians) and Black culture, religion, and family. At one point Grisham attempts to level an extremely weak criticism of the death penalty that is ultimately undermined when one of the 'bad guys' is sentenced to death andour main characters--who were earlier concerned by the practice of capital punishment--offer no comment.

This has got to be one of the worst novels I have ever read in terms of lazy writing and reliance on bigoted stereotypes. In addition the characters are all dry and forgettable, and the narrative tone serves to distance the reader from the plot. Exactly one plot point comes as a surprise: otherwise, the whole thing unfolds exactly as expected with nothing to keep the reader engaged intellectually or emotionally.

I loved Grisham's novels when I was a tween and teen. They were some of the first modern books I read not directed to a young adult or child audience. I don't know if, having now worked for both a civil investigative government agency and a law practice, I am incapable of suspending disbelief to the level I once could. I don't know if Grisham's writing has always utilized racist, sexist and homophobic tropes and stereotypes to this degree and I was simply too naive to catch it, or if this novel is particularly hastily written and poorly done. The only reason I kept reading through the whole thing was to see if, through his typical practice of plot twists, he challenged any of the bigoted premises he established. I was sorely disappointed.

In short, I consider this novel an utter waste of time and would not recommend it to my worst enemy.

c_tingstad's rating:
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