The Rooster Bar - John Grisham

There are some good things in the "The Rooster Bar", enough of them that I read the book right to the end in the hope that it would be worth my time. It wasn't.

"The Rooster Bar" starts well. John Grisham quickly got me immersed in the pressure cooker lives of four for-profit Law School students, groaning under a mountain of debt and with little prospect of getting a job that would enable them to pay it back. He used the instability and obsession of the most charismatic of the four to lay-out the "Great Law School Scam" without making it feel like a clumsy infodump and then added a trauma to hook my emotions and make me care.

I relaxed and waited for some kind of clever and cathartic revenge to be extracted in a sort of "The Firm 2.O" way.

Grisham kept my attention and my emotional involvement by adding in a plot about how ICE  (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) the Storm Troopers of  Homeland Security works.

This felt real and got the point across without sounding preachy. The shame of failing to treat people with dignity was made clear.

After that... well, the whole thing fell apart but slowly enough that I never quite gave up hope.

My main problem was that I didn't like and couldn't bring myself to care about the two emotionally distant, testosterone-driven, arrogant and amoral white boys who were positioned as the heroes of the piece.

Their reaction to having let their greed ensnare them in a potentially life-ruining scam was to scam everyone else. They commit crime after crime to make money, sustained by a sort of frat-boy belief that guys like them will never suffer the consequences of their actions. They were called Todd and Mark and I couldn't really tell them apart except that one (I can't remember which) was more willing to help a friend in trouble.

It seems that I was supposed to be cheering for these two would-be alpha male lawyers to out-smart the authorities, get revenge on the bad guys and ride off into a Tequilla-sustained sunset. Personally, I'd have been happy to see them both take their punishment.

Todd and Mark are the moral vacuum at the heart of this book. They're clever, resourceful, hard-working, brave but ruthless and willing to break any law to get their own way.

I could have lived with the moral vacuum if the book had ended with a great reveal or a clever, Mission Impossible slick finish but It didn't. Instead, it slid gently to a stop as it ran out of momentum and I ran out of sympathy.