Book review: ‘Rooster Bar’ by John Grisham

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Foggy Bottom was a for-profit law school in Washington D.C. Though Mark Frazier and Todd Lucero didn’t realize it when they read the slick brochures, only about 50 percent of its graduates passed the bar exam and Foggy Bottom graduates weren’t the ones hired by the top-paying law firms that were advertised in the brochures. At first, they were just happy to be accepted into law school and thankful for the easy federal loan money that was available. Now about to enter their final semester, they were forced to face the reality that they were heavily in debt with no job in sight.

Nor were they alone in this plight. Their good friends, Gordon Tanner and Zola Maal, were in the same predicament. Since all were good students, there was little doubt that they would pass the bar, but it would mean three months of grueling study with no real expectation of a job that would allow repayment of the $200,000 loans that they each had. In addition to that, each had personal problems. Mark’s brother was facing drug charges, and Todd’s grandmother was unwell. Zola’s family was facing deportation to Senegal, and Gordy was to get married in three months to a woman who thought he had a top position waiting for him when he graduated. None had been honest about the crushing education debt that they faced.

With the impending wedding, the situation was most pressing for Gordy. It wasn’t just that his family was expecting the wedding to his childhood sweetheart, Brenda; he had fallen in love with Zola, whose undocumented parents were from Senegal. The situation was untenable, and as it turned out, unbearable. Bipolar and off his meds, Gordy had frantically investigated Foggy Bottom and the loan institutions. He found out that they were all part of a much larger fraudulent scheme hidden behind shell corporations and masterminded by Wall Street lawyer Hinds Rackley. In a frenzied state, he had explained the structure to his three friends while self-medicating with a bottle to tequila. His state of mind scared them. So much so, that when he retreated to his locked bedroom, they stayed in his apartment with the intent of getting him to a doctor, something he had vigorously refused. Their best effort to monitor him failed. During the night, he sneaked out and used a spare key to take his car to a nearby bridge, jumping to his death.

The suicide and the Foggy Bottom debt mess forced a critical decision. The degree was practically worthless anyway, and there would be no way to repay the massive debt. Perhaps worse, their family would learn the truth. So what to do for money? They had the federal loan money from the school, but they would need a regular income.

They were nearly lawyers, so why not join the group that stood outside the courtroom every day and hustled clients. And they could even attempt to get personal-injury cases. It turned out that while they were not asked about their licenses, the lawyers already there intended to guard their territory.

The plot gets tangled here. Zola’s parents are deported to Senegal. Mark and Todd are being sought by several agencies for their fraudulent representation as lawyers. Using the Rooster Bar’s address hadn’t been such a good idea; it gave those interested a place to start. And if the debt situation was to be addressed, as well as the deceptive practices behind the law school and loan scam, some way needed to be found to implicate Hinds Rackley. John Grisham has set up a conundrum.

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