The name John Grisham brings a lot of clout. You’ve probably heard of A Time to Kill and The Firm? When people hear the Grisham name they probably expect a certain level of polish, as far as mass-market legal thrillers go. As seen with many top authors these days, that’s not always the case. His latest release, Sparring Partners, feels like warmed over leftovers. Advertised as part of the Jake Brigance series (remember him from A Time to Kill? Sycamore Row? Or A Time for Mercy?), it came as a huge surprise there were three novellas instead of a continuation of Brigance’s story.
The first, Homecoming, dips a toe into the Brigance universe but doesn’t focus on him. The center of attention is on Mack Stafford, a bankrupt lawyer and father who embezzled money from clients, divorced his wife, and disappeared for 3 years. Will he be accepted back into his old life or will his decision to abscond from responsibility be irredeemable?
Strawberry Moon is about a death row inmate who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cody Wallace is only 14 when his foster brother kills an old couple, dying in the process. Even though Wallace is a minor, he’s treated as an adult and sentenced to death. There are allusions to the power of fiction to help one escape from our own “mental prisons”, but this idea is never explored more than superficially.
The titular Sparring Partners is about the Malloy brothers who work at the firm their inmate father started. With the vengeful hatred they have for one another, the siblings have to figure out how to keep their father in prison to cash in on an investment he made years before. But there’s more intrigue (of course) behind the scenes of this otherwise straightforward familial tale.
These stories were a mess. The abrupt endings. Plots that don’t go anywhere. Concepts never explored with any real curiosity. Sparring Partners reads more like spitballing story ideas than actual storytelling, loose ends that never get tied up because they were never meant to be finished. Grisham has said he’d written these so-called novellas while recovering from COVID, which might explain why they’re so disjointed. And be forewarned; these morsels have no real endings and two of them don’t have anything to do with Jake Brigance, which feels like false advertising. Huge disappointment.