The Racketeer by John Grisham
Quickie spoiler: Judge Fawcett was killed by Nathan Cooley, who wanted the millions of dollars worth of gold that was hidden in his safe. Malcolm knew that Quinn was innocent the whole time; the two were working together in order to get the gold for themselves.
The murder of Virginia-based judge Raymond Fawcett and his young lover goes unsolved for three years, until former lawyer turned inmate Malcolm Bannister claims to know whodunit. Using his legal expertise, Malcolm makes a deal with the FBI that has him revealing the culprit in exchange for his freedom: Quinn Rucker, an escaped inmate who told Malcolm he’d planned to break out to kill Fawcett because he had reneged on a bribe. Quinn is found and brought in for questioning. He confesses as fast as he tries taking it back, but it’s too late. Quinn knows Malcolm ratted him out, and vows revenge. Meanwhile, Malcolm is released into witness protection with a new face, via plastic surgery, and a new name: Max Reed. Shortly after, the Feds tell him that his cover has been blown: they overheard a conversation during a jailhouse visit between Quinn and his brother, Dee Ray, who know all about “Max”, and are planning to kill him.
Malcolm sets up a production company and contacts a man named Nathan Cooley, claiming he’s filming a documentary about the Drug Enforcement Administration’s corrupt policies, of which Nathan and his brother were victims. He does this with the help of a woman named Vanessa, whom he met while she visited her brother in prison. After shooting several scenes, Malcolm tells Nathan that his film editor wants them meet up in Miami. Nathan agrees and soon he and Malcolm are off on a private jet, where Malcolm promptly drugs Nathan, then plants more drugs, a gun and a fake passport on him. Then, instead of landing in Miami, the plane ends up in Jamaica, where Nathan is taken into custody. When Malcolm goes to visit him with a lawyer in tow, he explains that they landed in Jamaica due to a detour, and that he needs a lot of money to get Nathan out of jail. Nathan tells him that he has a stash of gold hidden in his house that he can use. Malcolm contacts Vanessa back in the States and tells her where it is, then flies back there to claim it, abandoning Nathan.
Once Malcolm and Vanessa have stolen and hidden the gold, Malcolm contacts the Feds. He insists they cut him a deal once again: this time, to get Quinn out of prison. Once Quinn is released, Malcolm tells them who the real killer is: Nathan Cooley. He’s another former fellow inmate of Malcolm’s. While in prison on drug charges, Nathan told Malcolm that he was hired by Fawcett to move a safe into his lakeside cabin. Curious about the safe’s contents –and after five years of waiting – Nathan eventually broke into the cabin, killed the judge and his lover (who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time) and emptied the safe, which was filled with millions of dollars worth of gold. Once Malcolm’s meeting with the FBI is through, he heads to Antigua with Vanessa, Quinn, and Dee Ray –who were all in on the scheme – with the gold in tow, cleverly hidden in their scuba gear.
The reason that the judge had obtained the gold was because he’d been presiding over the case of Armanna Mines, a Canadian-based company who’d wanted to mine for uranium in Virginia, where that kind of mining is illegal. So to get the judge to see things in their favour, they bribed him with over ten million dollars worth of gold.
Vanessa is Quinn and Dee Ray’s sister.
Nathan didn’t recognize Malcolm’s face, because, of course, he’d had plastic surgery. However, he did say Malcolm (who had been operating under the name Max) looked like his prison buddy.