John Grisham

 

The Partner

 

An entirely plot driven book – characters and action are subsumed by the story line. It’s like a heist movie, with two getaways, once illegally, once legally. Grisham does very well mixing up both stories to keep the pages turning, revealing a bit here, a bit there - from four years before, and in the present. It’s almost impossible to discuss this effort without spoilers, so consider yourself warned. It’s purely a book for the ride, and the ride is clever and well paced. The ‘hero’ plays the system and the people in it like a deck of cards, and Grisham entertainingly spins out the basic plot with admirable control. He also gives us the common heist movie satisfaction of knowing that the ‘victims’ actually deserve what they get.

 

Or, at least, he does until the final twist. That didn’t really work for me. Until now each of the actions are carefully reasoned and justified. The final twist is pretty random – just a mandatory final page surprise. But good surprise endings integrate with a bunch of things earlier in the book, making us rethink them. This one doesn’t, it’s just a betrayal of trust that hasn’t been hinted at previously – it’s surprise for surprise sake only, and it doesn’t give us the satisfaction of the previous two heists: it’s too easy, and it’s unjust. Moreover a bit of thought raises some dumb contradictions around the question: why does she disappear? If, as the last pages say:

She knew where to hide, and how to disappear, and how to change identities, and how to move money instantly, and how to spend it without drawing attention. She had learned from a master. Patrick had taught her all too well the art of vanishing. No one would find Eva, unless, of course, she wanted them to…Her face would not be seen, because he’d taught her how to hide it.

why did she wait until Patrick had given back the 90 million! Moreover, if Patrick was the master, why did he ever bother returning? The rest of the book explains that he chose to return so that he wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder any more. He’s got the interest on 90 million over four years, and no one is chasing him – that’s the beauty of the heist, the satisfaction of safely signing in to a hotel in his own name. Yet Eva is left with the ordeal Patrick knowingly risked torture to escape. A still unsatisfying but less stupid finish would have seen Eva meet Patrick and calmly say, “Thanks for the cash, it’s been fun,” and then return home publicly. Patrick could follow her there, but do nothing – and she wouldn’t have to hide from anyone. That would make sense of her waiting until Patrick had neutralised the the threat from Stephano’s employers and the FBI, returning the bulk of the money to call off the dogs. Does she suddenly not care about her father, that she will never go back to her beloved Rio or her family? (for some unknown reason – why is she running from Patrick? What can he do? Who else is chasing her?) This doesn’t square with anything we knew about her until now. Nor does this talk of her as the master of invisibility work with her relatively easy capture in the US – what possible motivation would she have had for being caught? Either she’s not so competent, or she actually does love Patrick and is prepared to risk herself for him. Eva the scheming betrayer has no reason to risk the torture she knows Patrick underwent – from the same people hunting her in the states – if she, as the book contradictorily contends – can disappear at will, and/or is just using Patrick. The only possible reason for her risking her life to get Sandy all the material to give Patrick his safety is so that she also can stop running.

 

So, bummer about the very end. As I said, until then the plot is very well handled and a pleasure to follow. Still, it is a one-dimensional read – nothing much in the way of character or relationships: Patrick, and by extension, the reader, only thinks of people as tools. Don’t read this for humour or insight or powerful narrative (as you can find in addition to a decently paced plot with some other writers – say Chandler or Perez-Reverte) – but it’s still an OK read. Just tear out the last few pages before you pass it on.

 

March 2005