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First edition cover
|October 23, 2012|
|Preceded by||Calico Joe|
First edition cover
|October 23, 2012|
|Preceded by||Calico Joe|
The Racketeer is a legal thriller novel written by John Grisham that was released on October 23, 2012 by Doubleday with an initial printing of 1.5 million copies. It was one of the best selling books of 2012 and spent several weeks atop various best seller lists.
The protagonist Malcolm Bannister, an African American and former United States Marine, had been an attorney in a modest Virginia small-town law firm. A real estate transaction which he undertook in good faith turned out to have involved the purchase of a secluded hunting lodge where a crooked Capitol Hill lobbyist invited corrupt Congressmen for orgies with underage girls. When the scandal was exposed, Bannister was caught up in a large FBI sweep and his name was added to many others on a hundred-page racketeering charge sheet as his protestations of innocence were ignored. He was charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), convicted and given a ten-year prison term. The plot starts five years later with Bannister half way through his term, where he has since been disbarred, divorced by his wife, is losing his son and nursing a bitter grudge against the Federal Government in general and the FBI in particular. He gets his chance when the brutal murder of a federal judge, Judge Fawcett, and of the judge's mistress makes headlines in the media and the FBI investigation goes nowhere.  Bannister not only knows who the killer was and why, but also what had been in the judge's safe, as well as the judge's own hidden corruption.
He convinces the FBI to offer him a deal which will set him free as well as make him a member of the United States Federal Witness Protection Program, in return for information leading to the indictment of the murderer. He tells the FBI that Quinn Rucker, a drug dealer he met in prison, had escaped and murdered Judge Fawcett as revenge for a failed bribery attempt in which the judge took half a million dollars but didn't follow through on his end of the deal. He provides information on Quinn's whereabouts, who is arrested and confesses to the crime, which leads to an indictment. However, it is revealed that Quinn Rucker is not the murderer and that Bannister is aware of this.
After the indictment, he is released and given a new face and identity, Max Reed Baldwin. After the FBI discover that Rucker's gang know of Bannister's whereabouts and are seeking revenge, Bannister leaves the program and goes off the radar. He sets up a fake film company called Skelter Films, and proceeds to locate a man who he had also met in prison, Nathan Cooley. He contacts Nathan and asks him to take part in the filming of a documentary about corruption in the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI. Thanks to the Witness Protection Program, Bannister ensures that Nathan is unaware of his real identity, and succeeds in winning his confidence and landing him in prison in Jamaica by drugging him while he's on a private plane and planting cocaine, a handgun and a fake passport in his luggage.
It is revealed that Nathan is in fact the real killer, and that he stole approximately $7.5 million worth of gold from the judge who had taken it from a mining company, Armanna Mines, in exchange for a favourable ruling giving them permission to mine uranium in the region. Bannister tricks Nathan into giving him the location of the money and steals it. Meanwhile, charges are dropped against Rucker after it is found he has an alibi, and it is revealed that they have been working together in order to steal the money Bannister learned about in prison. Bannister trades the identity of the real killer in exchange for immunity and tells the FBI to investigate the bribery that took place between Judge Fawcett and Armanna Mines.
The novel ends with Bannister celebrating with the Rucker family in his new house in Antigua, with all the gold.
Commentators have noted that The Racketeer is unique among Grisham novels in that the main protagonist, Malcolm Bannister, is African-American. Grisham has stated that this came about after many years of fans encouraging him to feature a black hero but according to him, "It's no big deal. It's not about race."
The book debuted at number one on the The New York Times Best Seller list on the November 11, 2012 list (reflecting sales for the week ending October 27, 2012), where it remained for three weeks ending with the November 25 list (reflecting sales for the week ending November 10, 2012). On December 2, it was surpassed by Vince Flynn's The Last Man. However, on the December 30 list (reflecting sales for the week ending December 15, 2012), it regained the top position, which it also held the following week. As of 18 February 2013[update] the book remained on the best seller list for the week ending February 24 (reflecting sales for the week ending February 9, 2013).
The book reached the top of the USA Today best seller list for the week of November 1 and remained atop the list the following week. It is Grisham's 18th book to reach number one on the USA Today list.
The book debuted at #1 on The Wall Street Journal Hardcover Fiction bestseller list on for the week ending October 28, 2012 in the November 3 edition. It remained at #1 for three weeks. It debuted at #1 on The Wall Street Journal Fiction E-Books and Fiction Combined bestseller lists on for the week ending November 4, 2012 in the November 9 edition, but fell to #2 the following week. By December 2, it had fallen to #5 on the Fiction E-Books list, and it fell out of the top ten for the first time the following week. It remained in the Fiction Combined top ten until the December 30 list in the January 4, 2013 edition. It remained in the Hardcover Fiction top 10 until the January 27 list in the February 1 edition.
Tom Nolan of The Wall Street Journal describes the book as an enigmatic puzzle to understand who the title character is: Bannister, murdered Judge Raymond Fawcett or his killer. Nolan also views the book as insightful in its descriptions of the legal and penal system. He also lauds the book for its plot twists and scenery changes. Janet Maslin of The New York Times described the book as a departure from Grisham's normal legal novels. Although it began with the normal legal trouble, it then winds its way along an unexpected course. She says that rather than pursue the usual "triumph or a miscarriage of courtroom justice", this book is about reformation and revenge. The USA Today lauded the book's interesting twists when it named it as a recommended book on October 27.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox 2000 and New Regency agreed in February 2013 to develop a film adaptation of The Racketeer. They have signed on director Daniel Espinosa who previously directed Safe House, which starred Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. When the book was first released in October, Washington was mentioned as a possibility to play the lead role of Malcolm Bannister in a film adaptation. Grisham hoped that Washington would play the role and many of his contacts encouraged him to pursue Denzel saying, he has "got to get Denzel!". However, on the potential of Washington being involved, Grisham has commented "nobody has heard from Denzel. And I learned a long time ago, you never get the one you want. You can never get the right actor."