In the 31 years since his novel The Firm was published and became a runaway best seller, former lawyer turned author John Grisham has tackled many literary genres besides the legal thrillers that has made him a mainstay on best seller lists everywhere. He has written children’s books, true crime, sports and humor. For his latest book Sparring Partners, Grisham has decided to dabble with the novella, and thankfully, he has successfully conquered that genre, too.
Sparring Partners is a collection of three novellas, and they all deal with the law and the legal profession in some way, shape and form. “Homecoming” features lawyer Jake Brigance (who was the protagonist of three previous Grisham novels: A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row and A Time for Mercy). This time, Jake deals with the surprise return of Mack Stafford, a former friend and fellow lawyer, to Ford County. After leaving his wife, embezzled money from his clients and filed for bankruptcy before he skipped town (to Central America, to be exact), Mack returns in an attempt to face the music for his past sins and try to reconcile with his family, especially his dying ex-wife Lisa. But somehow, the homecoming is not as rosy as Mack hopes it would be, especially in the “forgive and forget” department.
“Strawberry Moon” is somewhat reminiscent of Grisham’s bestseller The Chamber. It focuses on Cody Wallace, a death row inmate who is just hours away from his execution for a murder that he somehow committed 15 years earlier. Although all of Cody’s options have run out, he has found solace in the nearly 2000 paperback books he has read and absorbed during his time on death row. But for Cody, that is not enough before he walks that last mile; in fact, he has a special final request – a rather soul searching one – that he hopes prison authorities will grant him before the inevitable happens and his life will be through.
The title novella, “Sparring Partners”, gives a new meaning to the concept of a feud. Kirk and Rusty Malloy are brothers who are also successful lawyers; however, there is one bump in the road. Kirk and Rusty detest each other and rarely speak to each other in person (except during those rare occasions when there is a need for it). This kink in this brotherly feud takes a further complication when they inherited their father’s prosperous law firm when dear old dad ends up in prison. Because of this cold war between Kirk and Rusty, the firm faces certain disintegration; hopefully, it’s going to take the efforts of a third party individual whom the brothers trust to patch things up before everything ends up in disaster.
The book is vivid proof that John Grisham can write an engrossing story from beginning to end, no matter what the length or format it takes. And he passes with flying colors with the three novellas that make up Sparring Partners. He holds the reader’s attention so well with his strong storytelling abilities and brings up the right set of emotions that he wants to accomplish with the narratives that he wants to impart upon us. Grisham really accomplishes this with the character of Cody Wallace, a man who is ready to pay the penalty for the crime he is convicted for, yet he manages to find simple pleasures as a means of self-redemption, whether it be reading paperback books or making that unusual final request.
With Sparring Partners, John Grisham has shown his millions of fans that he can broaden himself as a writer, and that he can never get stale from writing the same thing in the same format over and over again.
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