Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 18 October 2022)
Length: 454 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Legendary crime fiction author John Grisham returns with another impressive read, this time combining a complex, multi-generation character narrative with some excellent legal thriller elements to create the amazing novel, The Boys from Biloxi.
As I have mentioned a few times on this blog, last year I finally got the chance to read something from renowned author John Grisham. The author of multiple iconic legal thrillers, Grisham was a major author whose work I had only consumed by way of film adaptations. Luckily, I was able to fix that by checking out his 2021 release, The Judge’s List, which followed a complex investigation into a dangerous serial killer who was also a successful judge. I had an outstanding time reading The Judge’s List, and it made me determined to check out some more of Grisham’s books, especially his new releases. This included the fantastic short-story collection he released earlier this year, Sparring Partners, and his latest book, The Boys from Biloxi. The Boys from Biloxi is an intriguing standalone novel that proved to be quite excellent, and I am very glad I got my hands on it.
In the heartlands of Mississippi, the city of Biloxi is notorious for its vice, lawlessness and general lack of morals. A successful fishing and tourism spot on the coast, over time Biloxi became known as a place where all manner of gambling, drinking, drugs, girls and every other vice could be found. However, the battle for the soul of Biloxi is about to begin as two families go to war.
Jesse Rudy and Lance Malco are both second-generation Americans. The sons of hardworking immigrants, Jesse and Lance grew up on the streets of Biloxi, learning the value of the American way and hoping to make something for themselves by choosing very different paths in life. While Jesse chose to become a lawyer, working himself tirelessly to get his degree, Lance used his father’s money to invest in the seedy clubs of Biloxi. Both are happy in their respective lives, but, despite the close friendship of their sons, Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco, the two families are about to go to war.
After years of watching the corruption of Biloxi reach new heights, Jesse Rudy embarks on a mission to clean up the coast and works to become the city’s district attorney. His first target is Lance Malco, whose has become Biloxi’s biggest crime lord, controlling multiple illegal night clubs and bringing a brutal gang war to the city. As the two men go head to head, their sons soon follow in their footsteps, with Keith going to school to become a crusading lawyer, while Hugh becomes a thug for his father. Before long it becomes clear that only one family can remain in Biloxi, and the loser will not survive their defeat.
Grisham continues to showcase why he is so highly regarded with another awesome and captivating read in The Boys from Biloxi. Making great use of historical Biloxi, this fascinating crime fiction novel told a wonderful tale of crime and legal shenanigans that turned two families against each other over the course of decades.
I got pretty hooked on this novel right away, especially as Grisham started everything off by painting a cool picture of Biloxi, which promised to be quite a unique setting. The author swiftly compounded my interest by quickly and effectively introducing the reader to the Rudy and Malco families and showcasing their history. The early chapters of the book seek to build up the four main characters of the story, Jesse Rudy and Lance Malco, and their sons, Keith and Hugh. Grisham paints a multi-generational tale around them, simultaneously diving into how each character grew into their destined roles, as well as the friendship that Keith and Hugh had as children. These key characters are built up extremely quickly at the start of the novel, and before long you are really invested in their narratives, especially as there are some interesting contrasts between the adults, with Lance becoming a vicious criminal, while Jesse works hard to find his calling as a lawyer.
After all this substantial but necessary character and setting development, Grisham starts diving into the meat of the story, the conflict between the two families, and the wider fate of Biloxi, all of which is shown from the perspective of an intriguing range of characters. This starts when Jesse Rudy decides to run for district attorney, promising to clean up Biloxi and shut down the illegal clubs owned by Lance Malco, leading to a protracted battle over many years. The two sides engage in all manner of endeavours, including political runs, criminal investigations, turf wars and more, all while the younger characters grow up and start getting interested in their respective father’s worlds. There are some great scenes spread out through this elaborate narrative, including several entertaining trials, where the lawyer characters battle it out in the courtroom. Grisham clearly has some fun with these courtroom scenes, not only because the legal thriller elements are his bread and butter, but because it gives him the opportunity to come up with some ridiculous and fun legal manoeuvres that the characters utilise to win their cases.
The battle between the two families soon becomes the primary focus of the book, eclipsing some of the other storylines and character arcs going on simultaneously. There are some key and memorable scenes chucked into the centre of the book that really change the nature of the story, and it helps to focus the plot onto the younger generation of the respective families as Keith and Hugh continue their father’s war. The pace really picks up in the second half, and Grisham does an amazing job of bringing all the various plot points together, with some key moments cleverly set up much earlier in the book. Everything wraps up extremely well towards the end, and the characters all end up in some interesting and emotionally heavy positions. While the conclusion is mostly satisfying, Grisham does end everything on a rather sorrowful note that will stick in the reader’s mind. An overall exceptional read, and you will find it extremely hard not to get swept into this powerful and captivating narrative.
One of the things that I felt really enhanced this already cool story was the great setting of Biloxi, Mississippi. Now, I must admit that I thought Biloxi was a fictional city while I was reading this book (I had honestly never heard of it before), especially as Grisham really built it as the vice capital of the south. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was real, and I was really impressed with the way that Grisham utilised it as a background setting in this book. Grisham spends a substantial amount of time exploring and examining Biloxi throughout the book, and the early chapters of The Boys from Biloxi, contain a very in-depth and fascinating look at Biloxi’s history, culture, and the people who lived there. While the characters of this story are fictional, some of the key plot events are real, and I loved how Grisham was able to work historical events, such as hurricanes, the influence of the Dixie Mafia, and Biloxi’s changing society into his compelling narrative. The author really shows all sides of Biloxi throughout this book, including its position as a hub for immigration early in the 20th century, its role during World War II, as well as how it became known for its clubs, casinos, and other areas of vice throughout its history. Due to how the story is structured, Grisham spends quite a lot of time examining various parts of Biloxi’s culture and position in Mississippi, and you really get to understand its heart and soul, even with some of the over-the-top story elements. I also appreciated seeing the characters interacting with the city throughout the lengthy course of the book’s plot, and it was great to see some of the characters grow from children to adults, all while living in Biloxi. This was an amazing setting for this very clever book, and I really appreciated the outstanding story that Grisham was able to wrap around Biloxi. I will certainly not be forgetting that Biloxi is a real city for a very long time, and it sounds like a very interesting place to visit.
Finally, I must highlight the many great characters featured throughout The Boys from Biloxi. Grisham writes a compelling cast for this impressive story, and I enjoyed getting to know the various fictional inhabitants of Biloxi, especially as the author decided to make most of them very big personalities. Most of the focus is on the key members of the Rudy and Malco families, particularly the family patriarchs and their eldest sons, around whom this war is fought. As such, Grisham spends quite a lot of time building these four characters up and showing the key events that turned them into the men who would fight over the soul of Biloxi. These characters proved to be very compelling to follow, and Grisham writes a compelling and heartfelt tale around them, filled with love, regrets and the powerful influences that change people. I did feel that, at times, Grisham did make the four main characters a little too perfect, as all of them tend to succeed and excel at everything they put their mind to, and frankly it did get a little tiring to see them be the very best at every sport, job and academic pursuit they tried out. However, you do really get close to these characters, especially once their war gets even more personal and dangerous. Throw in a massive group of distinctive and memorable supporting characters, most of whom have personalities and personas to match the outrageous city of Biloxi, and The Boys from Biloxi has an excellent cast who help to enhance this very entertaining read in so many fun ways.
John Grisham presents another exceptional and highly entertaining crime fiction read with the brilliant new book, The Boys from Biloxi. One-part historical fiction read, one-part character-driven tale, and one-part legal crime thriller, The Boys from Biloxi was an amazing read that follows a feud between two families that lasted generations. Deeply compelling and filled with some exciting and fun scenes, The Boys from Biloxi is a highly recommended novel that I had a wonderful time reading.