Free Press Journal

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham: Review


Book – The Rooster Bar

Author – John Grisham


Pages – 374 pages

Price – Rs 399

John Grisham, the avid legal thriller writer, weaves a web of close to real-life incidences, that unfold into a legal education scam, in his new novel The Rooster Bar. Like the other legal thrillers from Grisham’s pen, this keeps the reader attentive and tied to the issue he tries to focus. The book would appeal and connect more with a legal student or a legal professional. However, common readers are also certain to find it interesting. Reason: The close to life realities reflected through the occasions put down in the story.

Ostensibly, Grisham picks instances from modern day legal education programs that are offered at huge prices by for-profit institutions, burdening an aspirant with heavy debts. Normally, such students are mediocre, with not very high scores, and with doubtful ability to pass the bar exam. Their dream to make it big in the legal career, is all that for-profit schools take advantage of. They are easily lured by carrots such as a promise of a degree and a flamboyant career prospect. Grisham, points to the hollow promises of these institutions, and reveals a racket of lenders and institution owners. Grisham, seems to have done his homework well before choosing this topic this time to base his novel on. He learned much about the ‘complex world of student lending’ professional(s) from renowned law schools.

The story revolves around three key characters, who are in their 20s, would-be law school graduates. How they fall into a for-profit law school entrapment and get admission at Foggy Bottom Law School (FBLS), as he funnily names it after a Washington DC neighbourhood, to transform their destinies. Pals Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero, and Zoya Maal in their final year, realise the unworthiness of FBLS and choose to drop out from the school, leaving their degree incomplete. So, they are half law grads with heavy debts on their backs, repaying which is immensely difficult!

The story takes an interesting turn when their colleague Gordy Tanner, a bipolar patient commits suicide leaving behind details of a complex nexus of law school owners and lenders, amassing huge wealth through salacious deals. From this point on the trio – Mark, Todd Zoya, undertake a unique challenge, which actually could be a way to escape the pressuring debt, and at the same time blow the lid off the dubious Law school (FBLS) owner, who also used to operate a hedge-fund in New York. They hatch a plan, to work as fake lawyers under pseudonyms. The plan is potentially retributive and illegal but would make them some fast bucks. Their tryst with fate as low-level lawyers, their way of handling lending agents under various circumstances, including Zoya’s plight with extradited Senegalese parents, makes a panoramic read. Grisham, as a legal professional, practised criminal offence and personal injury litigation for a long time. His way of putting things in perspective from the law point, especially the of fraud in the story, and underscoring the social implications of unlawful actions definitely need a mention.

The title ‘The Rooster Bar’, gets its name from the local bar where Todd used to serve drinks, above which they hire an office space for their bogus firm to do business from.

The storyline was inspired by Paul Campos’ The Law School Scam, published in The Atlantic, an American magazine and multi-platform publisher, in 2014. In the Author’s note at the end of the book, Grisham writes, “I read an article in the September 2014 edition of The Atlantic titled “The Law School Scam.” It was an investigative piece, and a solid grain for his novel.

Grisham uses his lucid story telling skill to pack the story with action and driving it smoothly from a relatively medium tone to a highly dramatic climax. Aside from money matters, he handles political (immigration of Zoya and her parents) and social issues in the book equally well. However, like many novels, The Rooster Bar, also has its gaffes, which a legal professional in business may point out.  The writer himself puts it as playing “fast and loose with reality” to suit the story.

Overall, The Roosters Bar is an interesting read.