Sparring Partners by John Grisham

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

If there is any writer who knows how to show the warts on the legal profession, it would be John Grisham. A household word in conveying yarns about clever legal practitioners, Grisham has, of recent years, told stories called A Time for Mercy, The Reckoning and Sooley. Each of these placed the hero in a position of some sympathy with the reader. This collection of short stories is different.

The first is a story called Homecoming. Jake Brigance is a lawyer in a town well-staffed with lawyers. He is placed in a quandary when Mack Stafford sends him a note with sufficient cash for a one-week vacation in Costa Rica. Stafford wants to come home. Unfortunately, this man had skipped town with $400 000 of his clients’ money and abandoned his teenage daughters together with his clients.

It takes a writer of the calibre of a Grisham to whip up feelings such that we feel sympathy for such a rogue.

The second short story, called Strawberry Moon, tells the tale of a fourteen-year-old participant in a robbery. His brother pulled the trigger and was killed. His brother was captured, and after a trial, was placed on Death Row. Now, fifteen years later, it is execution day. Cody’s only visitor has been his lawyer and, on the day of his execution, an old lady who, over the years, has kept him supplied with books. With execution imminent, Cody makes an unusual request – unusual but perfectly logical.

The final story features the most dysfunctional family that I have seen portrayed in print and one of the most hateful ones besides.   Bolton Molloy, having killed his wife, a woman whose loss nobody regrets, has been doing his time in prison but now hopes soon to be released. Each son, Rusty and Kirk, had signed an agreement not to leave the firm under penalty of a heavy fine. Each has been ‘fiddling with the books’. Hating each other as the brothers do, they cannot hope to solve the firm’s difficulties. As the firm disintegrates, the resulting fiasco falls into the lap of Diantha Bradshaw, the only person the partners trust. Can she save the Malloys, or does she take a stand for the first time in her career and try to save herself?

Grisham has told the story of the warring brothers in his usual clipped style with the result that the reader feels somewhat dirty having read their story. It is a tribute to Grisham’s skill as a writer, that we are left this way.

It is only through a careful analysis of what it is that drives a character that leads us to this conclusion. Mack Stafford fails in his bid. The sign of his failure is his crossing of the Rio Grande i.e., the United States border. Cody, on Death Row, could have been a figure of embarrassment. His simple request revealed what was in his heart. The Malloy brothers typify so many lawyers we have all known.

Sparring Partners


By John Grisham

Hodder & Stoughton

ISBN: 978-1-399-70844-9

$32.99; 320 pp


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