As a longtime fan of John Grisham for his straightforward writing style and intricately woven but always believeable plots, I was disappointed only a few pages into “The Associate.”
No spoiler alert here — this has been widely reported — but the associate of the title is, when the book begins, not even that but a third-year law student who’s thinking of going into public-interest law. Then a representative of a Mysterious Behind-the-Scenes Organization (a familiar player in Grisham novels) produces a videotape that, while not implicating him, certainly would derail his plans for a smooth transition into a secure future. To prevent the videotape going viral on the Internet, the student must accept a position with a New York law firm that’s one of the world’s largest, and then promptly begin spying on the firm in a case involving a huge Defense contract. He’d be breaking laws, violating standards of ethics and taking actions that would personally abhor him, but the alternative would be the possibility of years in prison and an inability to ever practice law.
My problem? Would a Mysterious Behind-the-Scenes Organization really rely on a law student to meet their needs? What if he didn’t get the job? What if he didn’t pass the bar? Would he really be able to access the big secrets? Wouldn’t it be far simpler, considering the organization’s obvious considerable resources, to contact an attorney already associated with the case or at least the firm and either bribe or try to blackmail him or her? Yes, that seems likely — especially in the case of blackmail, because an established attorney would likely have far more to lose than a third-year law student.
So I guess I’d suggest you think of “The Associate” in the way you might think of a movie — that it’s necessary to suspend your disbelief. Achieve that, and you’ll likely enjoy the winding paths and cross streets of Grisham’s latest journey.