Reviewed by Ian Lipke
John Grisham cannot help himself. No sooner has one legal thriller been dispensed with than he is into another. His latest, The Boys from Biloxi, is not to be taken too seriously but is a story of good versus villainous in the context of something called justice. Biloxi is pitched as a place of beaches, resorts and the seafood industry. But hidden away, not too carefully tucked away out of sight, a world of corruption and vice, of criminal activity and murder, festered. The usual villains operated the usual rackets – the gambling, prostitution, drug supply and contract killings.
To simplify the telling of his story, Grisham generates the presence of a cabal of mobsters opposed by a clean skin District Attorney whose activities eventually restore right and abolish wrong. This happy state of affairs is achieved through some dubious activities, none of which are objected to by the golden-principled DA, judge, or author himself. But first comes the mandatory telling of childhood, where one chief character chooses right and one chooses wrong.
Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco grew up in Biloxi, one the son of a legendary prosecutor, the other that of the local gangster boss. Keith absorbs all that is just and right, reeling under the blows of adversity but overcoming each attack as it strikes. He is a bright lad for whom his father’s goal of cleaning up the coast has merit. Hugh prefers the nightlife and favours attendance in his father’s clubs. Not for him the steady whittling away of adversity. It is clear that these boys would become adversaries and eventually fight out their differences in a courtroom.
The book is enriched with characters that readers are unlikely to forget. Chief among these is the not so impartial Judge Oliphant who throws his support behind the prosecution more perhaps than he should have done. It matters little to this judge that, providing his agenda is being followed, the DA can do little wrong. His decisions are supported by what the Americans accept as justice. One must feel supportive of the defence whose one man stand against the forces for good is valiant, unavailing, and ultimately futile. Female representation is muted but acknowledged. The prosecutor has a beautiful wife…and that’s about all she contributes. Grisham is not big on the involvement of women, most likely not as some negative feelings towards women in books as a complete and honest inability to deal with them.
As one comes to expect with a Grisham novel, there is a straightforward assembly of plot chunks, a series of anecdotes if you will, that is tied together by legal argument that no one seems to question. The argument is solid and logical, the product of a brain taught to rationalize and create. This book disturbs me in that quiet deals take the place of rigid justice, regardless that the outcome could well be someone’s death.
My final comment relates to the visit to Death Row by the DA on the occasion of an inmate’s pending death. I saw it as tacky, cheap and an instance of the very worst of American writing. Apart from this huge shortcoming, I found the book flying high in the entertainment stakes and definitely to be recommended.
by John Grisham