The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

read by Ari Fliakos

Grisham is a long-time favourite of AudioBooksReview. He has the enviable talent of whetting the appetite, getting the juices flowing and then delivering something arguably unsubstantial but generally satisfying to consume and mull over in retrospect.

Characterisation might be a little thin (two of the protagonists of The Rooster Bar, Mark Frazier and Todd Lucero, are at times indistinguishable: something perhaps substantiated by the bedmate they share, prosecutor Hadley Caviness), but the story carries you along and, well, you just have to know how it all ends up. So many books fail in their initial hooks and there are a fair few that, despite rewinding and restarting, your reviewer has never heard further than the opening twenty minutes.
The Rooster Bar fulfils the Grisham promise.

Inspired by an article in American magazine The Atlantic, Grisham’s new book examines the for-profit legal education industry. These new establishments, deemed educational and named ‘universities’, are part of a criminal cohort now plying their cynical trade in England too. In England, annual fees of just under £10,000 are charged by former polytechnics and greedy new colleges, just like older varsities, but which cannot be said to offer anything like a comparable education or qualification.

In The Rooster Bar, Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero and Zola Maal are third-year law students, deep in debt, facing their final term at Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington, DC: a prestigious location, but more dedicated to profit than to learning. Friend and classmate Gordy Tanner has convinced himself of the educational conspiracy whereby law schools admit unqualified students so as to profit from their student loans. Moreover, Foggy Bottom’s owner, a Wall Street lawyer, also has links to one of the banks that specialises in lending to students. Gordy’s discovery tips the balance of his frayed nerves and he jumps off the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The students, routinely harassed by the banks lending them the money to study, and troubled by their friend’s suicide, eventually decide that enough is enough. They drop out of classes, assume new identities and, with the Rooster Bar as their business address, trawl the lower courts, ambulance chasing, picking up desperate clients for traffic violations and the like so they can practise law without a licence a felony, they reassure themselves, rather than a misdemeanour, but lucrative work and they are learning law on the job, so to speak.

Of course, it all goes right until it doesn’t, with a few unhappy clients and their own creditors starting to close in. A class action, with thousands of complainants who apparently don’t need to be verified to share in a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement, is the climactic clincher: debts wiped out, money in the bank (lots), early retirement in a warm place with new identities. What could go wrong?

Grisham’s simple morality tales of Davids and Goliaths rarely fail to satisfy. The protagonists might be a trifle two dimensional, but the yarns are entertaining yarns and feed the imagination with plenty of the magical ‘what ifs’ of popular fiction.

Can’t wait for next year’s.

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