Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Partner: A Critique

WARNING**** Spoilers

The John Grisham juggernaut is rolling along, with a new book, "The Broker", and "Mickey", the Little-League/ethical-conflict film for which he wrote the screenplay, out on DVD this week. I was recently re-reading his earlier novel "The Partner" and thought I'd share my thoughts.

"The Partner" is reminscent at times of his earlier bestseller "The Firm". Nominally the tale of a Biloxi lawyer, junior partner at a law firm specializing in offshore injuries restitution, who is presumed dead, until the disappearance of $30 million shakes things up in his hometown, and sets off a manhunt that lasts four years, the book packs a lot more in than just a tale of crooked lawyers, insurance scams and all that gumbo.

The main character, Patrick Lanigan, is found in a little town in Brazil, on the border with Paraguay, by some goons hired by, as it turns out, a detective agency funded with money from the original owner of the funds, and the insurance companies involved in the payout. They torture Patrick to try to find out the location of the embezzled funds, but are stopped by the FBI stepping in, who are informed of the event by Patrick's associate in Brazil, a woman lawyer - the first of many twists.

Patrick returns to the United States, and numerous tort lawsuits, as well as a divorce from his wife, erstwhile a rich widow, who has not grieved much. There is also a weighty capital murder charge against him, for the corpse found in his car at the time of his disappearance.

The rest of the book details his travails with the law, his rediscovery of himself, and perhaps redemption. He demonstrates an adept handling of legal affairs, does no time for no crime he did not commit, and rattles quite a few skeletons. The whistleblower who wasn't, the homicide that might not have been one, and the meaning of a true love that may not have been true, commingle with Patrick's search for identity.

Patrick is driven by a desire to be redeemed, to find the father-figure he has never known, and to get his back. He does the deed out of disaffection for his life, his family, and perhaps a historical imperative to move on.
"Everybody wants to run, Karl. At some point in life, everybody thinks about walking away. Life's always better on the beach or in the mountains. Problems can be left behind. It's inbred in us. We're the products of immigrants who left miserable conditions and came here in search of a better life. And they kept moving west, packing up and leaving, always looking for the pot of gold. Now, there's no place to go."

He is not some grandiose tragic hero, however. He might be considered a whistle-blower, but a devious one at that. The only wrongs he sets out to right are his own, for being shut out of the original settlement that generated the millions, and for not being loved, perhaps
"I'm not Patrick anymore, Karl. Patrick is dead. He was trapped and unhappy. He was fat and miserable and, thankfully, he went away. I'm Danilo now, Danilo Silva, a much happier person with a quiet life in another country

The book flows smoothly, and displays John Grisham's expertise at the manifold shenanigans of lawyers - good, bad and amoral. His affection for life on the Gulf Coast, with all it's quirks, corruption, weather, and jambalaya is evident, as is his perception that life is a better place without all that bad jazz. The plot is a bit stale, and the staging seems written for a screenplay, as is common with his books, but an easy read for a shorthaul flight nevertheless.

Appropriate soundtrack for listening to while reading this book:

"Postcards from Paraguay" - Mark Knopfler ("One thing was leading to the next/I bit off more than I could chew/I had the power to sign the cheques/It wasn't difficult to do/I couldn't stay and face the music/So many reasons why/I won't be sending postcards/From Paraguay")

"The Stranger" - Billy Joel ("Well we all have a face/That we hide away forever/And we take them out and/Show ourselves/When everyone has gone/Some are satin some are steel/Some are silk and some are leather/They're the faces of the stranger")

"Drifter" - Deep Purple ("Drivin’ on a highway going nowhere/Desolation destination/Guess I’ll find it somewhere/I know if there’s trouble/I ain’t takin’ the blame/That’s why I keep movin’/So nobody knows my name")

"Running Away" - Bob Marley ("Every man thinketh his/Burden is the heaviest ")

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader