The Whistler by John Grisham

Erich Mayer

This novel, like Grisham’s many others, gives valuable insights into aspects of the legal system.
The Whistler by John Grisham

Scary stories, or pretended scary behaviour by loved adults, appeals to most young children. Some experts contend that this is because the children enter the realm of fantasy which they find arousing and entertaining. As adults we are really not that much different. In real life most of us abhor crime, hate cheating and shrink from physical violence. But we love to read about cheating violent criminals in thrillers such as those served up to us by John Grisham.

In the United States, Native Americans are allowed to run casinos on their reservations subject to certain conditions. Such casinos can be great money-spinners, such as the one run by the Tappacola tribe in Grisham’s latest novel. However this casino has been infiltrated by a group of ruthless and greedy gangsters who have settled in Florida adjacent to the Tappacola reservation.

These gangsters helped to get the casino established in the first place in spite of a majority of the Tappacola people being against it. They managed to do this by murder and intimidation and with the help of a judge who was in their pocket.

It is this judge that a whistle-blower – the ‘whistler’ of the title – wishes to bring to justice for a variety of reasons, one being the suspected innocence of a prisoner languishing in death row in the Florida State Prison. His exoneration becomes urgent as capital punishment looms. Prisoners on death row are kept in solitary confinement for most of each day but are permitted approved visitors.

The Florida Board of Judicial Conduct is a small under-resourced organisation whose job is to help weed out any judges whose conduct is unethical. As two of its employees begin an investigation into the behaviour of the suspect judge, as triggered by the whistle-blower, it becomes clear that they have embarked on a very dangerous mission.

Grisham lets the reader know what the gangsters are planning and doing, what the judge and the judge’s friend are up to, and the progress of the investigation. This omniscient narration is a powerful, though not uncommon, story-telling device. It gives the reader a better understanding of the situation than that of of the various players in the drama. It makes for page-turning reading.

This novel, like Grisham’s many others, gives valuable insights into aspects of the legal system. He shows how the legal system can be perverted, and how such perversion can be overcome. But unlike much of his other work the characterisation in The Whistler is shallow. The story lacks the nuances, the subtlety, of so much of Grisham’s best work. Given the volume of his output – he releases one book a year – perhaps it is too much to ask that each publication be as good as, or better, than the last. But this is still not one of his best.

3 stars

The Whistler by John Grisham 
Hodder Paperbacks
RRP $19.99

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog