John Grisham takes on The Great Law School Scam in his latest standalone legal thriller, The Rooster Bar.
When readers first meet Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero, Zola Maal, and Gordy Tanner, the four twenty-somethings are all heading into their final semester at Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington, D.C.
Originally, they’d all fallen for the promises of a great future and the exhilarating career being an attorney could provide. However, each of the four characters took on a ridiculous amount of debt to make their dreams become a reality. Now, suddenly, just months from graduation, it’s Gordy who reveals the ugly truth — turning their dreams into debt-riddled nightmares.
Having been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Gordy is now off his meds and playing detective — relentlessly searching for the truth behind Foggy Bottom and the school’s owner, billionaire Hinds Rackley, who stays hidden under a near-endless string of shell companies. After presenting his pals with a wall of evidence — a literal wall of charts and diagrams that would make Wentworth Miller’s character in Prison Break jealous — they quickly learn that Foggy Bottom is just one of many diploma mills designed to generate big-time money and little to no future for its students.
In fact, it turns out that less than half of the graduates from Foggy Bottom actually pass the bar exam. That’s especially bad news for Grisham’s main characters, who all owe around $200,000 in student loans. The grim reality worsens, though, when Gordy jumps off the Arlington Memorial Bridge, plunging to his death as his friends race to figure out how to handle their own situations.
Rather than just graduate and study for the bar exam, Mark, Todd, and Zola all decide to ditch school — after cashing their final loan check, of course — and set up shop above a dive joint called The Rooster Bar. After furnishing a hole-in-the-wall base of operations, the trio starts preying on individuals who’ve been hurt or arrested for DUIs, hustling the courts for hard cash while using fake names to practice law.
Soon, the characters are all dodging their loan companies who, of course, want them to begin paying back their tuition, along with trying to evade authorities and angry clients. If all that wasn’t bad enough, they also end up facing off with Hinds Rackley, as Grisham pulls out all the stops for a high-stakes climax that saves an otherwise so-so story.
Grisham, the undisputed king of legal thrillers, does a fine job presenting an entertaining plot here. Likewise, he manages to shed light on diploma mills and the student debt crisis, both of which deserve and, frankly, need more attention. However, his characters do lack development and, worse than that, they’re downright unlikable at times. Their saving grace is that readers will likely give them a pass for some of their actions due to understanding their predicament, but even so, there’s little depth to them, which makes rooting for them a real challenge at times.
In the end, nobody wants to see the billionaire scumbags come out on top, and if three law school dropouts can stick it to the system, then hey, why the heck not?
Author: John Grisham
Pages: 368 (Hardcover)
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.