John Grisham’s 25th legal thriller, The Rooster Bar (2017), is an entertaining read that follows the lives of three law-school students after the untimely death of their classmate. Mark, Todd, and Zola, the three students in question, are final-year law students at the Foggy Bottom Law School, a diploma mill owned by shady businessman, Hinds Rackley.
The book is a quick read, beginning with the death of Gordon Tanner, Zola’s boyfriend. Gordon had been engaged to be married to his childhood sweetheart (not Zola), but the stress and anxiety that came from facing a bleak future upon graduation led him to commit suicide, but not before he went digging for answers. The answers that he found, neatly laid out on a wall for the other three to understand, doesn’t serve any real purpose until the end. They include a complex hierarchy at the top of which stands Hinds Rackley, shady businessman; a man who has his fingers in numerous pots of honey, all the same as Foggy Bottom—diploma mills that pump out less-than-average kids into the world with half a million dollars in debt, forcing them to take (and fail, more often than not) the bar exam. This leaves the students in crushing debt, whereas Rackley and his goons get richer.
With Gordon gone, the other three struggle to return to their normal lives. Todd and Mark decide to go ahead with their lives, and they do so by dropping out of law school and hustling customers in circuit court for cash. The two rope Zola into their scheme and attempt to make enough money to pay back their loans. Their schemes fail one after the other, leading them closer and closer to discovery and prosecution, until they have no way out, bar one.
The story, as I mentioned earlier, is entertaining, but without any real focus. Most of it is simply wishful thinking, although that’s not a complaint; what are books, after all, but a way to escape reality? We all want to see justice done to those who would do wrong, and there’s nothing like the satisfaction of watching the wold come tumbling down around a shady businessman.
If only it were that well-plotted. Although Hinds Rackley and his hierarchy are hinted as the primary antagonists, they don’t serve any purpose or threat to the young, law-school dropouts. Instead, this book is more a collection of the illicit activities they get up to, what that leads to, and how they eventually get out of it. (Hint: It’s more crime.)
The back of the book is also a bit misleading.
“But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right? Well, yes and no . . .”
This sees to imply that the three work to expose the scam when, in reality, they go ahead with their lives how best they can with what they have. The subplots, including the one about Zola’s family being illegal immigrants ties in nicely with the rest of the plot, but, once again, with no particular direction during the course of the novel. The content, which could’ve used a heavy hand, is all written down methodically and in a laid-back manner, leading to a lack of emotional engagement with the characters or the situations they find themselves in.
That being said, The Rooster Bar may be light on direction, but it is engaging in its writing and dialogue, serving an intriguing read that doesn’t really have any stakes. What the book lacks in drama, it makes up for in style. It isn’t gripping, nor is it shocking or groundbreaking in any way, but what it does, it does well, making for a pleasant-but-soon-forgotten read.
The Rooster Bar is available on Amazon and probably at your nearest bookstore.