Top critical review
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Compares Poorly to The Firm
on January 31, 2009
The Associate is further evidence that John Grisham's best legal thriller writing was in his early days. From the concept for the plot to the character development to the ending, this novel shouldn't get past the defense's request for summary judgment to dismiss the book without offering a defense of the request.
If you haven't already read The Firm, The Associate would almost come up to average level. I'm sure you have read The Firm (probably one reason why you picked up The Associate), and in every aspect of The Associate you'll wish you were reading The Firm.
Don't judge the book by its first 57 pages. Those pages are vivid, interesting, compelling, and will get your heart pumping. After that, it's all downhill . . . a long way down.
So what's it all about?
Kyle McAvoy is a third-year student at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut where he's the star of the show as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Review. Having grown up in Erie, Pennsylvania where his father runs a "serve-the-people" practice rather than a "take-the-peoples'-money" practice, McAvoy is planning to take a job as a poverty lawyer for 2-3 years.
Fate intervenes while McAvoy is coaching a youth league basketball game. The FBI wants to talk to McAvoy. Before the night is over, a series of events begin to unfold that make McAvoy a pawn in a game so big he cannot even imagine who the players might be. It's all tied up with a moment he would rather forget, even though he doesn't remember much about the moment through the mists of time and drunkenness.
As a result, McAvoy joins one of the nation's largest and highest paid firms, Scully & Pershing, as a litigation associate. Once there, he's abused, overworked, and bored to death like everyone else chasing the plum of a partnership. McAvoy has another boss, the mysterious Bennie who wants secrets from the firm . . . and will seemingly stop at nothing to get those secrets.
Can McAvoy do what's right and escape the clutches of Bennie? That's the primary suspense in the story.
Don't read any further if you think you might want to read the book. Let's start with the plot's premise in explaining the book's weaknesses. I could not imagine someone with McAvoy's legal background and status knuckling under to this kind of blackmail without getting help from professors and a father who is a lawyer. If McAvoy had asked for help, the plot would never have developed.
From there, the blackmail activity puts enormous resources into influencing one law student. That makes no sense. There had to be easier ways to steal the information. I've been in many of New York's largest law offices after hours, and the security wouldn't be hard to overcome.
The side plot of a college rape doesn't add anything to the story other than to make it disgusting to read. Surely, Mr. Grisham could have thought of something else to blackmail McAvoy for that wouldn't leave such a bad taste in the reader's mouth.
On the character side, I didn't find myself rooting very much for McAvoy. And the other characters weren't particularly sympathetic either except for Baxter Tate, just before he was murdered. The character development was modest at best. The only character which came alive for me as a person was McAvoy's father.
Let's face it. Large law firms are indescribably dull unless you happen to be assigned an interesting question to research. There's a reason for that. Young associates don't know enough about the law to do very many people any good, but they can do a lot of harm. Picking such a firm for the story gave Mr. Grisham a target to criticize . . . but not much of interest to write about. Based on my experiences with top New York lawyers and the associates who carry their brief cases around, the criticisms rang more hollow than true.
Having McAvoy play cat-and-mouse with Bennie and his merry men did provide a little amusement, but to me it just stretched out the story to little purpose.
The ending just felt like the book contract required that so many pages be written and that Mr. Grisham wanted to wrap it all up quickly. Obviously one of the partners was playing ball with Bennie . . . but why . . . and what did they hope to accomplish by involving McAvoy?
I suppose that I'm supposed to riddle over that set of questions (like The Lady or the Tiger?). I didn't riddle a bit because I didn't care who did what.
I think I'll wait to look at a few reviews in the future before I read any of Mr. Grisham's future legal thrillers.
Your Tags: john grisham, legal thriller, suspense, mystery, blackmail, rape, yale law school, espionage