Book review: ‘The Whistler’ by John Grisham

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Sheltering in place and a closed public library likely means you are running out of books. Taking a cue from the Ontario Public Library news, I downloaded the Libby app (libbyapp.com). It’s an unlimited source of e-books and audio books to borrow that you may use on your computer or handheld device. You’ll need your library card. The John Grisham book reviewed here is the result of Libby.

Florida’s Board of Judicial Conduct (BJC) was, just as the name implied, a legal entity that sought to discipline misconduct by judges in Florida’s court system. Judges were not immune to the human frailties. Lacy Stolzand and Hugo Hatch were investigators for the BJC. They were lawyers, not law enforcement.

Through a complicated series of events, they learned that a judge in a southern Florida county was being accused of taking skimmed money from an Indian casino for favorable legal rulings, rulings that had survived several appeals. Not only that, but the skimming was apparently being masterminded by a close-knit gang called the Coast Mafia. Questionable judges they could deal with, but a mafia?

The appropriate route with potential mafia involvement would be to turn the accusations over to the FBI. But the FBI now focused almost exclusively on counterterrorism and cybercrime. It would take more than accusations provided by a mole for the FBI to become involved. Lacy was the first to learn of the accusations. She had been called by the mysterious Greg Myers. He explained that he was working with an intermediary who was the contact with the nameless mole.

The information being provided was both credible and disturbing. While the rulings had withstood several challenges, many were suspect because they all facilitated the original casino, golf course and condo development that followed it. And other than the original casino, all were property of outside interests.

Arranging for the casino on native American land had been a difficult process. The Tappacola were a small tribe with a small reservation. Over time, the land around it was purchased and added until an appropriate site was included. Since a casino amounted to development, it was not difficult to get the county on board.

But the Tappacola were split about gambling, and the first vote went against it. When one of the opposition leaders was murdered in a compromising situation and another was sent to prison on trumped-up charges, the second vote passed by a significant margin. And now tribe members received a monthly check and conditions on the reservation were vastly improved. The supposedly skimmed money didn’t seem to be missed, and there was little opposition to the casino.

Greg Myers signed a complaint against the judge, so the claim had to be investigated. When Stacy received a call from a potential informant, a midnight meeting deep in the reservation was arranged. Lacy and Hugo were forced into a head-on collision with a truck twice the size of Lacy’s Prius. Hugo was killed and Lacy severely injured. Not long after, Greg Myers disappeared and was presumed dead. There was just too much. The FBI became involved.

Even with FBI involvement, the case is not easy to solve. The Feds had limited jurisdiction on the reservation. The Coast Mafia was a small, well-organized gang. The judge had a time-proven system. The identity of the mole become known to the mafia. And Lacy couldn’t let go of a case where her partner and friend has been murdered.

It takes all of John Grisham’s skill and imagination to bring this mystery together.

 

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