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    I never thought I'd be rooting for the criminals, but here it is! This is the third Grisham book I've read and the second novel. As in The Testament, he has set up an outrageous scenario, filled with humor and exaggerating the really dirty aspects of his profession—law, that is. But as in the first one, there are also serious elements among the laughs, and in this case, it is the criminality of student loans, and ICE—Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has certainly received a lot of publicity since that thing took over the White House. And in that, I am sure Grisham was not exaggerating.
    There was a mixed bag of reactions from the good readers at Goodreads, Many really hated it because of the very appalling behavior of these former law school students, but let's face it, the world of attorneys is filled with illegal and immoral activity, and revolves around greed with not only individuals, but the system in general. There are no small numbers where legal fees are involved. That, along with all the other corruption in the world, will soon be coming to an end as the atrocious behavior of the wealthy and powerful is brought to light. Meanwhile, we can laugh out loud as three innocent students attempt to get even with the system when they realize they have been scammed big time. And it gets really out of hand!
    It begins as Mark Frazier is home to visit his mother and brother for Christmas. His father left, and his poor mother is stuck with lazy-ass Louie who is up for trial for selling drugs to an undercover cop. They expect Mark to get him off. Mark can't stand it at home and goes back to D.C. early. His best friends, also students at Foggy Bottom Law School are Todd Lucero, Gordon Tanner, and Zola Maal.
    Gordy's problems are much worse than Mark's. He is supposed to be marrying his long-time sweetheart, Brenda, but his vacation ended early, too. What they, Mark and Todd did not know is that he is bipolar, and has gone off his meds, and has, well, really gone off . . . . But Zola knows because she is his girlfriend, a black Muslim whose parents have been illegal immigrants from Senegal, Africa, for twenty-six years. But the major, major problem with all of them is that they realize they have been duped by the school, and between the four, are about three-quarters of a million in debt with student loans. And what they also realize, way too late as they are supposed to be gearing up for their last semester, is that Foggy Bottom, a for-profit law school, is really low quality. Only fifty percent of its students even pass the bar exam, and if they do, they are certainly not qualified for the high-paying jobs the school promises when they sign up. In fact, the school takes just about anyone who will participate in their loan program because they make SO MUCH PROFIT. Todd works in a bar, Zola does temp work, and Mark is supposedly hired at a law firm, where he works now for no pay, which will not give him a contract or even tell him what his salary will be. And that is provided he passes the bar exam, which is unlikely.
    After they are all back in D.C. but before classes start, Zola goes to Todd at the Old Red Cat, where he is a bartender, because she is so worried about Gordy. He lives in the apartment across from hers. Mark and Todd meet Zola there, but Gordy's door is locked. He finally answers it, and is a sight—emaciated, filthy and unshaven, drunk, and a mess. But he has been working on a project and it is plastered all over the walls. At first they think he has really flipped, but what he has to tell them is absolutely true. He has been doing research on Hinds Rackley, who owns Foggy Bottom Law School, but as it turns out, he also runs a network of other law schools, law firms and banks that keep students stuck in a cycle of debt, while he is a billionaire. Gordy has uncovered much of the huge network, but not all. Along with the businesses, he has also uncovered the outrageous salaries of those at the top. He believes that a class action suit is in order. But the bottom line is that all these students have been lied to and lured into something in which they can never succeed. Gordy says:

He continued, "We're in this mess because we saw the opportunity to pursue a dream, one that we could not afford. None of us should be in law school and now we're in over our heads. We don't belong here, but we were scammed into believing we were cut out for lucrative careers. It's all about marketing and the promise of jobs, jobs, jobs, big jobs with nice salaries. The reality, though, is that they don't exist. Last year the big firms on Wall Street were offering $175,000 to the top grads. About $160,000 here in D.C. We've heard about these jobs for years and somehow convinced ourselves that we might get one. Now we know the truth, and the truth is that there are some jobs in the $50,000 range, something like you, Mark, managed to get, though you still don't know the salary. These are a smaller firms where the work is brutal and the future is bleak. The big firms are paying one-sixty plus. And there is nothing in between. Nothing. We've suffered through the interviews, knocked on doors, scoured the Internet, so we know how bad the market is.

    I want to put my two-cents in here, first to mention that that is what happens when people think life is all about money. And the other point is that, all through the story, there are "legitimate" attorneys whose behavior is just as bad as these three students. One of the readers at Goodreads made a humorous remark about hoping to never have an attorney like the ones in Grisham novels! HA! But just having to deal with an attorney at all—OMG!! The expense is incomprehensible to me. And now we continue.
    Though the others stay with Gordy that night to protect him. Zola, who is on duty on the couch, falls asleep. He gets even more drunk, sneaks out and is picked up for DUI. His friends go to bail him out.
    Another point I want to make is that these students who supposedly have no money sure know how to spend it. Their lives are one massive expense after another—also behavior I cannot comprehend. Anyways . . . .
    While they are at the courthouse, they observe a parasite in the body of attorney Darrell Cromley, who hangs out and hits on victims who are in desperate need, which they are. Fourteen-hundred, which includes his fee of a thousand. And, imagine this, it turns out he was a Foggy Bottom graduate. Twelve years ago. So they pay him up and get Gordy out of jail. He has not showered for days and reeks of alcohol. They take him home and guard him. Meanwhile, Brenda keeps calling and Mark lies about the situation because Gordy has threatened to commit suicide if anyone tells her what is going on.
    To make a long story short, he does anyways. He eventually awakens sober, showers, shaves and is more like himself. Mark takes him for coffee, then they go for a walk. Gordy wanted to see the Potomac River. And while he seems better, the others still guard him and that night, Zola again falls asleep and he escapes, this time leaving an alarming message on Zola's phone. The three take off, but when they come to the bridge and see all the flashing lights, they know what has happened. He just got out of his car and jumped.
    Of course they are absolutely in shock and Zola is inconsolable, blaming herself because she fell asleep and he was her boyfriend. So now his and Brenda's family must be contacted. They return to his apartment which is trashed, and begin cleaning up. Zola gathers everything that needs washing and does the laundry. They remove the charts from the wall, containing Gordy's research, and Mark finds two flash drives, which he keeps, and which also contain incriminating evidence against Hinds Rackley.
    I will skip ahead now to their new game plan. Mark and Todd are impressed with Darrell Cromley's ability to hustle and make pretty good bucks just hanging out at the courthouse. They wonder if he even has a license to practice law. Ah. That wonderment gets them into extremely deep shit. Neither of them have any intention of returning to finish their final semester at Foggy Bottom, but they will each receive a big check from the school—$20,000, in fact. So they decide to set up shop on their own. Todd's boss, Maynard, who is not particularly legal, also owns another establishment, the Rooster Bar. Above it are two dumpy floors. They set up residence on the top, and save the middle for Zola, assuming she will join. They get brand new fake identities—it's really easy, in fact. They change their names to Mark Upshaw and Mark Finley, one for D.C. and Delaware; Todd Lane and Todd McCain, for D.C. and Maryland. Their new firm is Upshaw, Parker and Lane, Parker being the name they give Zola. Of the three, she is the one with the most conscience. She is also the best student and most industrious. And she has the welfare of her family to think about and does not want to screw up. But their worst nightmare happens. After twenty-six years of living quietly and responsibly in New Jersey, her parents and brother Bo are seized and arrested, and taken to a detention facility to be shipped back to Senegal. No trial, no negotiations, nothing. Keep in mind, this book was written in 2017, and I wonder how much more brutal ICE has become since that thing has occupied the White House. Truthfully, I had never paid much attention to it until 2016. Anyways, Grisham paints a horrific portrait of the reality of illegal immigration. I have always had the attitude that illegal is illegal and people should go through the proper process to become a citizen. But so many of these people come here out of desperation, and certainly those who have lived a quiet and productive life here for so long at least deserve the opportunity to become full legal citizens rather than be deported to what is now a "foreign" country to them. And also the fact that American citizens, particularly the wealthy and powerful ones are behaving more illegally than these illegal immigrants, who just want to live in peace and provide themselves with life's necessities. And add to that, even though Zola was born in the U.S. and IS a legal citizen, she is also subject to deportation!! OH MY. And so she lives in fear, for herself and her family. One night, some kids, just screwing around and trying to scare her, bang on her apartment door, claiming they are ICE. But soon they start to laugh and leave. And it is after that experience that she, too decides to join the new "law firm," because she will be safer above the Rooster Bar than in her apartment now.
    As is typical with Grisham, and most authors who write books of this nature, he combines fact with fiction. He has pages and pages about the horrors of ICE and deportation, and I wonder if Trump's extreme apathy and blatant lack of compassion inspired him to use it as a secondary theme for this story. Anyways, as the three are making the two hour trip so that Zola can see her family, Mark is reading some data on ICE.

According to the Post, Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintains fifteen detention centers around the country and in any given day there are 35,000 people in custody. Last year ICE detained over 400,000 undocumented workers and deported about the same number at a cost of over $20,000 per deportee. The entire detention system eats over $2 billion a year. It's the largest immigrant detention system in the world. In addition to the fifteen ICE facilities, the Fed contracts with hundreds of county jails, juvenile detention centers, and state prisons to house their detainees, at a cost of about 150 bucks a day per person, 350 for a family. Two-thirds of all facilities are run by private companies. The more bodies they have, the more money they make. Homeland Security, which ICE answers to, has a quota, one mandated by Congress. No other law enforcement agency operates on a quota system.

    And that's only numbers. It says nothing about the horrors and abuse the detainees are forced to endure. Grisham blends that into what Zola and her family go through, and it is even worse when they get back to Senegal, where apparently, freedom is only offered to those who can pay a large bribe. I am quite certain that bribing also plays a huge role here in the U.S..
    Anyways, Mark and Todd erroneously believe that since there are SO many lawyers all over the place, and no one really checks their credentials, they can operate without a license and not get caught. They actually do start hustling clients in the courthouse and make some pretty good bucks. But they also make some horrendously dreadful mistakes, which triggers more and more legitimate operators to do some research. The first to become suspicious is the cute prosecutor, but after she sleeps with both Mark and Todd, she is not a problem, and in fact helps them. (Yikes!) But the suspicion really begins to arise when they accidentally hustle a client that already has an attorney, and that attorney wants to take revenge, rightfully. It is the other lawyers who research their firm and find it does not exist, nor do attorneys Upshaw or Parker or Lane. As for Zola, her assignment is to sit around the hospitals looking for malpractice cases, something none of the three know anything about. They really screw it up bad and eventually face a malpractice lawsuit worth millions, which of course they do not have nor, obviously, do they have the insurance most attorneys carry. It lands them in the biggest disaster of all, and literally blows their cover. (Yes, they DO get caught, and arrested, except for Zola, who is back in Africa.) And what is even worse, it's that saying, "Desperate times call for desperate measures," and since they really have nothing to lose, and are now felons on the run, rather than facing reality and giving up, they commit even bigger crimes to get to their end. And what is their end? To expose the corruption of Hinds Rackley and get out of debt. I will leave it there, so as to not give away any more, so you can (and should) read the book to find out how it all works out.
    It is really very entertaining, and yes, I know, these kids did some really bad and stupid stuff, but you had to just keep hoping they would get away with it because what was done to them, legally (sort of) was much worse. And we ALL know we are being scammed every day in so many ways. It has become the modus operandi here in America. Very highly recommended reading.


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