Book Talk: Grisham, ‘Sparring Partners’
As well as I can remember, I haven’t read a short story since I was in college, and that was when there was still an ice bridge over the Bering Straits. So, I was surprised when the Amazon wagon pulled up to my door with John Grisham’s newest book, “Sparring Partners” (2022, 306 pages). Having read all 39 of his previous books for adults, I was expecting a novel; what I received was a collection of three short stories. Perhaps there should have been a warning label on the cover.
At 123 pages, I suppose the first story would be called a novella (short novel) if it had been published alone, but because it is one of three stories in this book, I’ll stick with my description of it as a short story — a long short story. It’s interesting and well written, as are the vast majority of Grisham’s works, but it’s like a French movie of the 1950’s or 1960’s. That is, it captures one’s interest and builds the suspense. Then it ends.
When I was in college, I saw a lot of foreign films, because that’s what college students of my generation did. I usually enjoyed the French flics, but I often left the theater wondering why there was no resolution. We Americans expect resolution. But we were not occupied by a foreign force during World War II, and I always wondered if that was why French writers and directors left us to wonder how things turned out.
In “Homecoming,” the story revolves around a lawyer in Clanton, Mississippi, the setting for the author’s earlier “A Time to Die” and “A Time for Mercy.” This lawyer, familiarly known as Mack, stole money from his clients, left his family, and ran off to various countries in Central America. After a few years, he contacts Jack Brigance (the lawyer in the aforementioned novels) and tells him that he has come home. Will he have to face up to the consequences of his crime? Will he be able to reunite with his daughters? (Hint: French ending.)
In the second story, Cody Wallace has only two hours to live. He’s 29 years old and has been on Death Row for the past 14 years. A lawyer from a benevolent organization has worked tirelessly for him for years, and he’s out of tactics to delay Cody’s execution. Cody has no family and no friends, so he spends the last moments of his life talking with the warden, prison guard, and priest. Then, a retired schoolteacher shows up in a wheelchair. She’s sent him about 2000 paperback books over the years, and during their conversation, he tells her that books have taken him to “other worlds, other places.”
The last story provides the title for the book, and it’s the story where Grisham really hits his stride. Bolton Molloy, the founder of a prestigious law firm, Molloy & Molloy, is in prison for killing his wife. His sons, Kirk and Rusty, are running the business, but they can’t stand to be in each other’s company. So, Diantha Bradshaw, managing director, takes care of business.
Everyone at Molloy & Molloy hopes that Bolton will stay behind bars, but the great man has other plans. A few years ago, he filed as part of a huge class-action suit against tobacco companies, and $3 million per year is piling up in secret off-shore accounts that were set up by Stu Broome, the reclusive accountant. As you might have guessed, Kirk, Rusty, Diantha, and Stu have their own plans for Bolton and his money. This eponymous story, alone, makes reading the book well worthwhile.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.