I didn't like John Grisham's latest book, and I feel badly about it. He's a brilliant author, but The Boys from Biloxi left me unthrilled. #BoysfromBiloxi #bookreview #amreading #DixieMafia

I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.

Meh. I didn’t like John Grisham’s latest book, and I feel bad about it. He’s a brilliant author, but The Boys from Biloxi left me unthrilled.

I didn't like John Grisham's latest book, and I feel badly about it. He's a brilliant author, but The Boys from Biloxi left me unthrilled. #BoysfromBiloxi #bookreview #amreading #DixieMafia

Yeah or Nay on John Grisham’s Latest Book?

I teach English to high school students, and John Grisham’s latest book illustrated how not to create a protagonist and the importance of good characterization. Since The Firm came out in the 90s, I’ve lined up at the library for his new releases or purchased them for my Audible collection. Ninety percent of the time, I love his latest releases. I read Skipping Christmas every few years. My students love his Theodore Boone series (and so do I).

It pains me to admit when I don’t enjoy a favorite author’s new release. But the longer I work with an underrepresented and marginalized student population, the more it bothers me when famous authors perpetuate stereotypes. Whether the stereotypes involve Native Americans, Blacks, or sex-trafficked women (prostitutes) doesn’t matter. Authors have a huge platform they can use to not only entertain but to persuade and educate others about racism, bigotry, and misogyny. Grisham has done a brilliant job using his platform to combat racism and bigotry; maybe it’s time to dive deeply into stereotypes about women that perpetuate misogyny.

The Boys from Biloxi: A Legal Thriller

By John Grisham, Doubleday, October 18, 2022, 464 pages.

The Rudys and the Malcos, immigrant families from Croatia, settled in Biloxi, MS, in the early 1900s. Through hard work, each family managed to thrive in sometimes hostile conditions—personal pain, the Great Depression, World War II, and few educational opportunities. The Malcos invested in legal and illegal things, while the Rudys engaged in honest labor. Lance Malco and Jesse Rudy both served their country during World War II and returned to Biloxi after the war.

Jesse Rudy chose to go to night school and eventually earned his law degree from Loyola. Lance Malco used his business acumen to enhance the Malco holdings and add crowd-pleasing side-business to slake the thirsts of servicemen from nearby army bases. Things like prostitution, betting, and casinos.

While Jesse Rudy struggled to gain an education, Lance Malco learned to rule his empire with an iron hand. Their sons, Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco, born only 28 days apart, enjoyed a close friendship—bonded by their love of baseball.

But as Keith and Hugh matured, their interests changed. Keith had a fascination for law and watching his father in court. Women, boxing, and alcohol started to dominate Hugh’s life. As the two friends drifted further from their shared love, they each made choices that would one day set them up as combatants in a different venue—a court of law.

What I Liked … and Didn’t…About the Book

Grisham unfolds the stories of the two families like a grandma slowly turning pages of her cherished albums and recounting stories of days gone by. I’ve listened to most of Grisham’s new releases over the past ten years, and I don’t remember his stories taking so long to pick up speed.

For the first three-fourths of the book, the reader can’t decide who to settle on as the protagonist. The Malcos and Rudys seem almost one-dimensional, with the Malco clan the clear villains and the Rudys the white-hatted cowboys.

Unlike many of his other novels, the action spans decades (from the 1920s to the 1980s). He summarizes great swathes of history with a storyteller’s finesse. At first, I resisted the subtitle of “A Legal Thriller” because, unlike Grisham’s other thrillers, the legal wrangling and courtroom drama heats up in the late 60s and comes to fruition in the 80s.

By the time I reached part four, I re-read the book’s description on Amazon to verify I had selected a novel and not a non-fiction title. I suppose one could call the book a very true-to-life novel. After all, real life unfolds in fits and starts, and legal battles take decades, not days.

Will I quit reading John Grisham novels because I didn’t love one of them? No. I remember a few other Grisham titles that left me with the same unfinished feeling at the end. Perhaps the most profound line comes on almost the last page when Keith realizes that ‘perhaps things would be different if they (he and Hugh) had kept talking.’

A Cautionary Tale and a Shortfall

Grisham clearly portrays the price of fighting for right. His cautionary tale caused me to consider the cost of speaking up in a society divided by those who want to exploit our differences.

On the other hand, Grisham’s hackneyed portrayal of happy hookers smacks of misogyny.  He paints an almost complacent life for the women who work in the brothels on the strip. They come to make a killing and live the good life. While the book takes place in a historical setting where no one questioned old assumptions about prostitution, an author has editorial license and can decide whether to perpetuate the myths.

While I applaud the author for championing the underdog lawyers, immigrants, poor people taken to the cleaners by corporate America, and Blacks, maybe it’s time Grisham took on a huge evil in society—modern-day slavery and the sex trafficking trade.

What About You?

I’m curious. Have you read (or listened to) John Grisham’s latest book? How do you react when a favorite author writes a book that leaves you cold?

*Thank you to Doubleday for making this title available to me through NetGalley. The views and opinions expressed are my own.

20 Comments

  1. I do not disagree with most of your assessment of this book. Being from Biloxi I was looking forward to reading/listening to the book. It does seem like non fiction. My reall issue is probably minor to you but Biloxi is in Mississippi(MS) not Michigan(MI). Mississippi gets overlooked a lot in the media and this is just one example. I do try not to be part of the grammar police but please get the state right!

    “The Rudys and the Malcos, immigrant families from Croatia, settled in Biloxi, MI, in the early 1900s.”

  2. I try not be a usage pedant, but, ma’am, if you really do teach English, you most definitely should know that feel as you have used it in your opening is a linking verb and therefore should be followed by an adjective, not an adverb. If you feel badly, there is something wrong with your sense of touch. You feel bad.
    I doubt that Grisham is misogynist; in my view he is reflecting the attitude of the era about which he writes.

    1. Thank you for catching the error! Even English teachers make mistakes ;). I doubt that Grisham is a misogynist, too. I wish famous authors would use their platforms for good, instead of perpetuating myths that lead to misogyny.

  3. I liked the book. And then I didn’t like the book. I lived in Biloxi at the time–and you could divide most people into one camp or the other. There are times with Grisham’s writing brings in more modern things–blue tarps were not around after hurricane Camille. Prostitutes and strippers flocked to the coast as ‘less than evil New Orleans’ or ‘try out Biloxi before moving on to Vegas’ kind of act. So many were young, poor, immigrants–and making more money then they had ever imagined. Some found a young airman and married well.
    This is a non-fiction story–not really a legal thriller (not sure why it’s called that)–and doesn’t have the element of real mystery that other Grisham fiction does.
    Almost every chapter–I thought “I’ve forgotten that”! And he stopped the story too soon. Probably a good place for this story but there is more to be told with all the glitz of modern-day casinos along the Mississippi coast.

  4. Low-quality writing with cardboard cutouts for characters. No credible dialogue because the characters are cliches.
    Is he doing it by committee now and trading off his name?
    Editing, or lack of scrutiny, allows a character to be in prison on a page following the description of his suicide. No care taken!
    If Grisham wants to write a B-movie screenplay, he should submit it to producers and not burden us we ugh this half-baked tome.

    1. I was enjoying the book up until the end. Then I got annoyed.. I just caught on page 412 Fats Bowman commits suicide, then on page 413 Fats is ‘freezing in Maine’ and then on 414 “With Fats behind Bars.” How did Grisham and his editor miss this?

      1. I agree with this comment. Isn’t this what editors are for? It seems so obvious that something went wrong with the description of the ultimate demise of Fats Bowman with these inconsistencies within just a few pages in the book!

      2. Another one…in Chapter 3 page 16, Lance Malco joins the US Marine Corps after Pearl Harbor. Then we read he’s fighting with the US Army 1st Infantry Division? Huh?

  5. I’ve read just about ever novel he’s written other than his young adult series, but for many years I’ve often gotten the impression that at some point while he’s writing, someone shouts up the stairs, “John! Your dinner’s almost ready,” and suddenly he condenses the last 50 pages into 5. I’m just finishing his latest book, and I’m shocked by the plot errors where the character, Fats Bowman, “blew his brains out” (page 412)at his hunting cabin in Stone County, Mississippi, the next thing he’s “freezing in Maine,” (page 413), and then he’s suddenly “now behind bars”, (page 414). So much for proof readers. I also would have thought any of his many friends and acquaintances who got advanced copies, would have spotted it and let him know. Is this the trade off for being so prolific, I wonder?

  6. Fatigue at the end? Fats shoots himself at his hunting lodge, and then within two pages, he is serving time in prison.

  7. I’m on page 414 now and Googled this question about Fats Bowman. Your response came up. How could this plot mistake get through the author, editors and publishers?

  8. Was finally able to get my hands on ‘The Boys from Biloxi’ from my local library. Just read the Fats Bowman suicide, then freezing in Maine, then behind bars passages. Bloody ridiculous and incredibly amateurish effort all the way around.

    1. Someone else mentioned this and I didn’t recall the error. So, I got my paperback copy of the book out and found those errors have been corrected in my copy. I guess the public editors got the message back the paid ones.

  9. In the e-book Fats ends his life and does not rise from the dead. There are two mentions of “Fats dead by his own hand”…but-like Francisco Franco-still dead.

  10. I just picked up the book, looking forward to the comfort of a good long read while I nurse my flu-ridden body. I can’t believe this is a book by the author of books like The Chamber and Sycamore Row. It’s underlying politics/values are so out of wack, as you point out, in regards to women, particularly those who work as prostitutes. But I was equally put out by his assumptions about what constitutes success; by his subtle endorsement of social hierarchy – that people who work as janitors, as fisher(men), as truckers are, by definition, inferior to the razzle dazzle politicians. And the conversation between Hugh and Keith on the last few pages – holy moly, give me a break. I guess we all have the right to shoddy work, even a gifted storyteller like Grisham. But in today’s world, we are so badly in need in expressions of ethical values – in portraits of our fractured world not only as it is but as it might be.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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