The Boys from Biloxi is the latest book from John Grisham. It tells the story of two young friends, Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco, who grow up together. Up until their teenage years they have similar interests, both longing to make the big league in baseball. The two boys have a close yet rivalrous friendship. Yet there is little separating them, including only a month between their birthdays, their living only a few streets apart, as well as their families knowing one another: both are immigrant families.
The book is set in Biloxi, Mississippi in the 1960s and ranges over a period of time. The city has been through rough times and is starting to rebuild itself. Apart from the usual infrastructure projects comes those businesses which buoy the city back to life, including clubs with gambling, and the selling of alcohol, sex and violence. Along with this comes a variety of unsolved murders and a police force which is manned by officers who are largely content to let crime slide for a cut of the finances, other kinds of protection or payback.
As Keith and Hugh grow older they both become, as often happens, entrenched in their families’ ways. Their fathers, Jesse Rudy and Lance Malco, have led very different lives. Jesse becomes the first lawyer from the area, graduating with honours and eventually starting a business of his own. Having seen the impact of prostitution, gambling, drugs and alcohol on the Biloxi community, Jesse plans to help, through the judiciary, to clean up the city. He uses his friendship and like-mindedness with Judge Oliphant, as well as a link to the FBI, to gather evidence and try cases. While many of the cases result in clear cut positive verdicts for Jesse, the power of the underworld in Biloxi can’t be understated.
Because Lance Malco has somewhat grown into that very life and Jesse and Lance become embroiled in conflict indirectly in one court battle after another. Lance is a silent partner in nightclubs and casinos in Biloxi, running them like a gangland boss: indeed, he is working to promote everything that his old friend, Jesse, is trying to tear down.
With baseball careers coming to an end, both young sons get involved in their families’ businesses. Keith is given his mother’s blessing to study law, while Hugh, against his mother’s better judgement, becomes involved in heavy-handed tactics, fighting and violence, all in the name of helping his father. In fact, Hugh admires and is mentored by one of his father’s thug associates.
Who will win out? Will Biloxi continue to deal with corruption and be ruled by a mafia style group of mobsters? How will their young sons become further involved down the track and how will this affect their childhood friendship?
I must say that due to a very hectic holiday period, this book took me a long time to finish. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, the more I read it, the more I found this book engrossing. The Boys from Biloxi has a huge cast of characters, probably the largest of all Grisham’s books that I have read. Due to my protracted period of reading, along with the number of minor characters, I found myself constantly having to check back to remind myself who they were. To me, some felt a little unnecessary and made spots a bit confusing. But this was probably partly due to my protracted reading, overall, so I won’t be too critical of that.
This was a good Grisham read. Some parts, as always, were totally surprising. I can thoroughly recommend it.