Friday, February 5, 2010

The Associate - by John Grisham

John Grisham is one of my favorite authors. As "The Associate" came out a little over a year ago (January, 2009), I'm not sure what took me so long to get around to it. If you liked Grisham's earlier legal fiction thrillers, this one is of a similar mold.

Kyle McAvoy is editor of the Yale Law Journal and has a very bright future. He is being recruited by top law firms, including Scully & Pershing of Wall Street, with whom he had a summer internship. As the well grounded son of a small town (York, Pennsylvania), main street lawyer, though, he has more idealistic goals for his prospective legal career. When ambushed with a newly surfaced video of an episode from his past, all of that quickly changes, however. Years earlier, while at Duquesne University, Kyle an his roomates wound up drunk in a room with a young girl. Two of the boys (not Kyle) had sex with the girl while she may have been passed out. At the time, allegations of rape were quietly dismissed. Now, however, the emergence of a video changes things. It threatens not only Kyle's bright future, but also places his old college roommates and friends at risk. Because of this, he is forced to succumb to blackmail.

A mysterious man with the alias, Bennie Wright, becomes his handler and forces him to work as his spy, towards the goal of obtaining highly classified information associated with a multibillion-dollar lawsuit between two defense industry giants. Kyle must, against his will, turn his life over to a New York firm and assume the highly competitive and stressful, but well-paid position of a first-year associate. Although he continually struggles to achieve an acceptable balance between keeping Bennie happy and avoiding the slippery slope of ethical and/or criminal behavior, events are quickly pushing him towards a point of no return, where he will eventually be forced to provide unauthorized and confidential client information. Constantly under surveillance, his life is no longer his own. Who is Bennie and who is he working for? Can Kyle survive this and find a way out?

In my opinion, the true strength of Grisham's novels lies in his characterization. Almost everyone in the story is interesting for one reason or another. In "The Associate," that is just as true as ever. His college buddies are Joey Bernardo, the newly responsible Pittsburgh stock-broker with a fiance and a baby on the way, and Baxter Tate, an alcholic and addict from a wealthy family who is going through a last chance detox and finds religion. Kyle himself comes from a somewhat broken but functional family. His father is a decent man who has dedicated his life to the practice of law within and on behalf of the small town community that he lives in. Although divorced from Kyle's mother, he looks after her. On her meds, she is an untalented, but contented artisan. Off of her meds, her life is much more depressing. Through Kyle's new career, we are exposed to many interesting associates and partners. His friend and love interest, Dale, for example, is a rather quiet, former math teacher turned lawyer. Above all, Mr. Grisham is a consummate storyteller and, personally, I find his characters to have depth.

I found "The Associate" fast paced and a very enjoyable read. Many may not appreciate the ending. Given my previously noted bias, you may want to take this with a slightly skeptical view, but I recommend this book. In the end, I found it an interesting story that I wanted to keep reading all the way through. Those are the kind of books I like to read.

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