Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Associate by John Grisham

“Duquesne University. Five years ago. Drunk frat boys and a girl.”
Kyle’s body and mind had different reactions. His body conceded— a quick slump of the shoulders, a slight gasp, a noticeable jerk in the legs. But his mind fought back instantly. “That’s bullshit!” he said, then spat on the sidewalk. “I’ve already been through this. Nothing happened and you know it.”
There was a long pause as Ginyard continued to stare down the street while Plant watched their subject’s every move. Kyle’s mind was spinning. Why was the FBI involved in an alleged state crime? In second-year Criminal Procedure they had studied the new laws regarding FBI interrogation. It was now an indictable offense to simply lie to an agent in this very situation. Should he shut up? Should he call his father? No, under no circumstances would he call his father.
Ginyard turned, took three steps closer, clenched his jaw like a bad actor, and tried to hiss his tough- guy words. “Let’s cut to the chase, Mr. McAvoy, because I’m freezing. There’s an indictment out of Pittsburgh, okay. Rape. If you want to play the hard-ass smart-ass brilliant law student and run get a lawyer, or even call your old man, then the indictment comes down tomorrow and the life you have planned is pretty much shot to shit. However, if you give us ten minutes of your valuable time, right now, in the sandwich shop around the corner, then the indictment will be put on hold, if not forgotten altogether.”

This weekend, while visiting with family in Charlottesville, I picked up local author John Grisham's latest legal thriller off my grandma's shelf. Three-and-a-half hours later, I was done with my first ever Grisham novel. It was short and exciting, pretty much all I was expecting.

In The Associate, Kyle is a brilliant law student headed for a public-interest job when a secretive fellow named Bennie approaches him with a threat. Take a job at Scully, a prestigious firm defending a defense contracter in a top-secret case or face having a video leaked that connects Kyle to a possible rape that occurred five years ago. Kyle takes the job and becomes an associate at the largest law firm in the world, the fictional Scully, something and something. He is introduced to the world of Document Review and billable hours immediately, and also the world of billing a client for black cars, $2400 dinners, and 2500 hours a year (that's 50/week not counting non-billable time spent in the office and vacations). The young associates are told that the divorce rate for their "class" is 70% and that only ten percent will ever make partner. The rest would burn out way earlier or be asked to leave the firm.

In between sticking it to corporate clients and hating life, Kyle also has super fun biweekly meetings with Bennie in which the latter threatens Kyle with the video unless he ratchets up the sketchiness and starts getting B what he wants: top-secret shit. Meanwhile, Kyle's phone, car and home are all wire-tapped so he has to go out of his way to meet with old fraternity brothers also implicated in the video. One of them, fresh off rehab, feels so guilty about the issue that he tells Kyle he's going to apologize to the girl (who has a lawyer and is amping for a criminal or civil case) - only to wind up shot to death in an interstate restroom, victim of Bennie's associates who want him to be quiet (or their deal with Kyle is up).

Kyle, realizing how serious the situation is -blackmail, extortion, murder - contacts an attorney of his own, who hears his story and decides to involve the FBI to catch Bennie et. al. They set up an elaborate sting that involves Kyle going along with the plans to steal corporate secrets, and offering the girl from the video a hefty sum to drop the matter. With his incentive to work for Bennie gone, Kyle cooperates with the FBI to catch Bennie...but the plan fails and B escapes. The books ends when Kyle has quit the big firm and declined a position in the federal witness protection program, instead choosing to open a small-town law firm with his dad. Aw.

This book has been billed as a return to formula for John Grisham, the sort of tight legal thriller that made him famous (interesting tidbit: my grandma has lived in Charlottesville since forever and says of the Grishams, who moved there in the 1990s: "I have never heard anybody say anything ugly about that family. They are good people." So there's that too.) I have to say, I can definitely see why the formula works: this book was a great, quick summer read that had just enough substance to keep me interested.