Whistler (Grisham)

The Whistler 
John Grisham, 2016
Knopf Doubleday
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385541190

A high-stakes thrill ride through the darkest corners of the Sunshine State.
We expect our judges to be honest and wise. Their integrity is the bedrock of the entire judicial system. We trust them to ensure fair trials, to protect the rights of all litigants, to punish those who do wrong, and to oversee the flow of justice.

But what happens when a judge bends the law or takes a bribe?

Lacy Stoltz is an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. It is her job to respond to complaints dealing with judicial misconduct. After nine years with the Board, she knows that most problems are caused by incompetence, not corruption.

But a corruption case eventually crosses her desk. A previously disbarred lawyer is back in business, and he claims to know of a Florida judge who has stolen more money than all other crooked judges combined.

And not just crooked judges in Florida. All judges, from all states, and throughout United States history. And now he wants to put a stop to it.

His only client is a person who knows the truth and wants to blow the whistle and collect millions under Florida law. When the case is assigned to Lacy, she immediately suspects that this one could be dangerous.

Dangerous is one thing. Deadly is something else. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 8, 1955
Where—Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA
Education—B.S., Mississippi State; J.D., University of Mississippi
Currently—lives in Oxford, Mississippi and Albermarle, Virginia

John Ray Grisham, Jr. is an American lawyer, politician, and author, best known for his popular legal thrillers. He has written more than 25 novels, a short story collection (Ford County), two works of nonfiction, and a children's series.

Grisham's first bestseller was The Firm. Released in 1991, it sold more than seven million copies. The book was later adapted into a feature film, of the same name starring Tom Cruise in 1993, and a TV series in 2012 which "continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere and his family 10 years after the events of the film and novel." Eight of his other novels have also been adapted into films: The Chamber, The Client, A Painted House, The Pelican Brief, Skipping Christmas, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, and his first novel, A Time to Kill. His books have been translated into 29 languages and published worldwide.

As of 2008, his books had sold over 250 million copies worldwide. Grisham is one of only three authors to sell two million copies on a first printing; the others are Tom Clancy and J.K. Rowling.

Early life and education
Grisham, the second oldest of five siblings, was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Wanda Skidmore Grisham and John Grisham. His father was a construction worker and cotton farmer; his mother a homemaker. When Grisham was four years old, his family started traveling around the South, until they finally settled in Southaven in DeSoto County, Mississippi. As a child, Grisham wanted to be a baseball player. neither of his parents had advanced education, he was encouraged to read and prepare for college.

As a teenager, Grisham worked for a nursery watering bushes for $1.00 an hour. He was soon promoted to a fence crew for $1.50 an hour. At 16, Grisham took a job with a plumbing contractor. Through a contact of his father, he managed to find work on a highway asphalt crew in Mississippi at the age of 17.

It was during this time that an unfortunate incident made him think more seriously about college. A fight broke out among the crew with gunfire, and Grisham ran to the restroom for safety. He did not come out until after the police had "hauled away rednecks." He hitchhiked home and started thinking about college.

His next work was in retail, as a salesclerk in a department store men's underwear section, which he described as "humiliating." He decided to quit but stayed when he was offered a raise. He was given another raise after asking to be transferred to toys and then to appliances. A confrontation with a company spy posing as a customer convinced him to leave the store. By this time, Grisham was halfway through college.

He went to the Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi and later attended Delta State University in Cleveland. Grisham drifted so much during his time at the college that he changed colleges three times before completing a degree. He graduated from Mississippi State University in 1977, receiving a BS degree in accounting.

He later enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law planning to become a tax lawyer. But he was soon overcome by "the complexity and lunacy" of it. He decided to return to his hometown as a trial lawyer, but his interest shifted to general civil litigation. He graduated in 1983 with a JD degree.

Law and politics
Grisham practiced law for about a decade and also won election as a Democrat in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990 at an annual salary of $8,000. By his second term at the Mississippi state legislature, he was the vice-chairman of the Apportionment and Elections Committee and a member of several other committees.

With the success of his second book The Firm, published in 1991, Grisham gave up practicing law. He returned briefly in 1996 to fight for the family of a railroad worker who had been killed on the job. It was a commitment made to the family before leaving law to become a full-time writer. Grisham successfully argued his clients' case, earning them a jury award of $683,500—the biggest verdict of his career.

Grisham said that, sometime in the mid-1980s, he had been hanging around the court one day when he overheard a 12-year-old girl telling the jury how she been beaten and raped. Her story intrigued Grisham, so he began to watch the trial, noting how members of the jury wept during her testimony. It was then, Grisham later wrote in the New York Times, that a story was born. Musing over "what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants," Grisham took three years to complete his first book, A Time to Kill.

Finding a publisher was not easy. The book was rejected by 28 publishers before Wynwood Press, an unknown publisher, agreed to give it a modest 5,000-copy printing. It was published in June 1989. The day after Grisham completed A Time to Kill, he began work on his second novel, the story of an ambitious young attorney "lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared." The Firm remained on the the New York Times' bestseller list for 47 weeks and became the bestselling novel of 1991.

Beginning with A Painted House in 2001, the author broadened his focus from law to the more general rural South, but continued to write legal thrillers. He has also written sports fiction and comedy fiction.

In 2005, Grisham received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. The award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.

In 2010, Grisham started writing legal thrillers for children 9-12 years old. The books featured Theodore Boone, a 13-year-old boy, who gives his classmates legal advice—everything from rescuing impounded dogs to helping their parents prevent their house from being repossessed. His daughter, Shea, inspired him to write the Boone series.

Marriage and family
Grisham married Renee Jones in 1981, and the couple have two grown children together, Shea and Ty. The family spends their time in their Victorian home on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi, and their other home near Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Innocence Project
Grisham is a member of the Board of Directors of The Innocence Project, which campaigns to free unjustly convicted people on the basis of DNA evidence. The Innocence Project argues that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects. Grisham has testified before Congress on behalf of the Project and appeared on Dateline on NBC, Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, and other programs. He also wrote for the New York Times in 2013 about an unjustly held prisoner at Guantanamo.

Libel suit
In 2007, former legal officials from Oklahoma filed a civil suit for libel against Grisham and two other authors. They claimed that Grisham and the others critical of Peterson and his prosecution of murder cases conspired to commit libel and generate publicity for themselves by portraying the plaintiffs in a false light and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. Grisham was named due to his publication of the non-fiction book, The Innocent Man. He examined the faults in the investigation and trial of defendants in the murder of a cocktail waitress in Ada, Oklahoma, and the exoneration by DNA evidence more than 12 years later of wrongfully convicted defendants Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. The judge dismissed the libel case after a year, saying, "The wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz must be discussed openly and with great vigor."

The Mississippi State University Libraries maintains the John Grisham Room, an archive containing materials related to his writings and to his tenure as Mississippi State Representative.

Grisham has a lifelong passion for baseball demonstrated partly by his support of Little League activities in both Oxford, Mississippi, and Charlottesville, Virginia. He wrote the original screenplay for and produced the 2004 baseball movie Mickey, starring Harry Connick, Jr. He remains a fan of Mississippi State University's baseball team and wrote about his ties to the university and the Left Field Lounge in the introduction for the book Dudy Noble Field: A Celebration of MSU Baseball.

In an October 2006 interview on the Charlie Rose Show, Grisham stated that he usually takes only six months to write a book and that his favorite author is John le Carre. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/6/2013.)

Book Reviews
[A] main character [who’s] a seriously appealing woman...a whistle-blower who secretly calls attention to corruption . . . a strong and frightening sense of place.... [John Grisham’s] on his game.
Janet Maslin - New York Times

Riveting…finely drawn.... Grisham fans looking for courtroom drama might be disappointed by The Whistler, since [Judge] McDover’s questionable cases are glossed over. The book feels more like the first half of an episode of Law & Order, with much of the story focused on Stoltz and her crime-fighting squad.  
Peter Lattman  - New York Times Book Review

A fascinating look at judicial corruption…an entirely convincing story and one of Grisham’s best. I can’t think of another major American novelist since Sinclair Lewis who has so effectively targeted social and political ills in our society. In Grisham’s case, it is time at least to recognize that at his best he is not simply the author of entertaining legal thrillers but an important novelistic critic of our society. In more than 30 novels, he has often used his exceptional storytelling skills to take a hard look at injustice and corruption in the legal world and in our society as a whole.
Patrick Anderson - Washington Post

[John Grisham is] our guide to the byways and backwaters of our legal system, superb in particular at ferreting out its vulnerabilities and dramatizing their abuse in gripping style.
USA Today

Grisham's latest involves the rich and powerful and an abuse of the justice system. Grisham novels are crowd-pleasers because he knows how to satisfy readers who want to see injustice crushed, and justice truly prevails for those who cannot buy influence.
Associated Press

[A] tense legal thriller.... A high-stakes game of gambling, greed, and murder plays out in another page-turner from a master storyteller.
Pubishers Weekly

[A]nother blockbuster in the making from Grisham, the ascended master of the legal procedural.Yes, it’s formula.... Yes, it’s not as gritty an exercise in swamp mayhem as Hiaasen, Buchanan, or Crews might turn in. But, like eating a junk burger, even though you probably shouldn’t, it’s plenty satisfying.
Kirkus Reviews 

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're  available; in the meantime, consider these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Whistler...then take off on your own:

1. Talk about Lacy Stoltz. Grisham has been accused of ignoring strong females for his lead characters. Does Stoltz satisfy that lack? What do you think of her?

2. Do you find anything enviable about Lacy's life in the following passage? If so what? If you're a woman, do you ever envision a life like Stoltz's?

The truth was that, at the age of 36, Lacy was content to live alone, to sleep in the center of the bed, to clean up only after herself, to make and spend her own money, to come and go as she pleased, to pursue her career without worrying about his, to plan her evenings with input from no one else, to cook or not to cook, and to have sole possession of the remote control.m. Describe Judge Claudia McDover.

3. Grisham's writing contains some sharp observations about lawyers. Pick out a few passages, like the lawyer he describes here as a "ham-and-egg street hustler." Are Grisham's observations about the legal profession in general fair? What things does he reveal about the law that perhaps we'd rather not know?

4. Talk about the Coast Mafia and the crimes they commit. What about Vonn Dubose?

5. Had you figured out the whistle blower's motive before the reveal?

6. How does Grisham ratchet up the suspense in The Whistler? What about that mysterious late night meeting near the Tappacola reservation? Realistically, why would Lacy and Hugo have gone?

7. Can you describe the elaborate crime scheme? Did you understand it...or is it too complicated to grasp?

8. Read other Grisham novels? If so, how does this one compare?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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