Bright lines are crossed and ethical boundaries obliterated in John Grisham’s newest legal thriller, The Rooster Bar. Fans of rapid, sharp plot twists will not be disappointed, but perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this page-turner is the audacious thumb-in-the-eye the novel delivers to corrupt banking interests exploiting idealistic students to saddle them with worthless degrees and crushing debt.
The story begins with three friends, Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero, and Zola Maal, enrolled at the aptly named Foggy Bottom Law School, a dubious institution run by investor Hinds Rackely, who seems to be the academic equivalent of a payday loan predator. Rackley owns a network of banks, schools and law firms, designed to enrich him at the expense of ambitious millennials.
The scheme comes to light when Zola, concerned about the worsening state of her bi-polar boyfriend, Gordon, contacts Mark and Todd. The three learn that Gordon’s mania has led him to connect the dots against Rackley. Although they can’t say Rackley’s activity is strictly illegal, Mark and Todd believe Gordon has amassed enough evidence to file a class action against Rackley.
But as Gordon spirals out of control, Mark and Todd also lose their moorings, to the point where they make the risky decision to drop out of school and start practicing law unlicensed and under assumed names out of a tavern called The Rooster Bar.
Although longtime fans of Mr. Grisham might feel like he’s covering familiar territory, this story is bound to resonate with millennial attorneys and law students who can appreciate the antiheroes’ impulses to strike back against the hypocrisy of a corrupt system and take the law into their own hands. Reading this book, one can’t help but reflect on the scandal unfolding around Navient, the nation’s third-largest provider of student loans. As of this writing, lawsuits against the lender have been bolstered by a Department of Education audit showing Navient may have driven tens of thousands of borrowers struggling with their debts into higher-cost repayment plans without their knowledge or consent.
Another issue that will strike a chord with young professionals is Zola’s struggle against the immigration bureaucracy on behalf of her parents, who are removed back to Senegal despite having lived peacefully and productively for decades in the United States.
Of course, as with all of Mr. Grisham’s works, the thrills are what matter most. As characters careen from one peril to another, readers are bound to be hooked, all the way to the satisfying conclusion.