A Partner's Pursuit of Escape, Revenge, and Riches
“I guess it sounds romantic, doesn’t it? The dream of simply walking away, vanishing into the night and when the sun comes up you’re somebody new. All your problems are left behind.”[i]
In The Partner, Patrick Lanigan is the titular partner at an up-and-coming law firm in Mississippi. Unhappy with his unfaithful wife and miserable life, he devises a masterplan to flee his past for a new beginning abroad with his new-found love and the $90 million dollars he steals from his firm’s client.
The novel, published in 1997, is one among a string of bestselling modern legal fictions by American lawyer-turned-author John Grisham. Law and literature coalesce in his books, like The Rainmaker and The Firm, featuring a variety of themes – from social issues involving narratives of injustice, crime, and morality, to chase thrillers based on greed, power, and cut-throat competition. While his novels ushered in an age of lawyers presented as heroes fighting the forces of injustice, many of his works also show members of the legal fraternity as corrupt and devious. According to him, all his stories are inspired from the realities pervading the legal world: ”You can always find lawyers who have done worse things than I can ever dream up.”[ii] The Partner is one such novel. Indeed, money and greed are the key plot devices of the story and the motives behind the characters’ actions, who are all anywhere between morally ambiguous to downright fraudulent and criminal. Such features are observed in his other novels too, like The Runaway Jury, which presents a story of jury manipulation during a lawsuit against tobacco firms. In Grisham’s literary world, money rules, and the novels express the way money can really manipulate the system, and help one buy one’s way out of trouble.[iii]
The story of The Partner opens with Danilo Silva in Brazil who had, just four years ago, ended his life as Patrick Lanigan by faking his own death and watching his funeral from afar. Absconding with the $90 million dollars earned by his firm and their client through illegal activities, he begins to live his life on the run, drastically changing his physical appearance and periodically shifting the money between different banks across the world to hide its trail. The novel follows his story as he is finally caught with a number of dangerous stakeholders on his tail, including the robbed client’s private detectives, his ex-firm, the insurance companies who had to pay his family on his “death”, and the FBI. Patrick is, however, portrayed as a man of high intelligence, who seems to have planned his embezzlement very strategically and foreseen the consequences of all his actions. Tortured and traded, with prosecutors encircling him like sharks for the several indictments to his name, including one for first-degree murder, it is interesting to see what ultimately becomes of him, and whether his arsenal truly is packed with every weapon. It is clear, though, that his fantasy of making a fresh start with no thought of his past does not materialise quite as he hoped, and he knows that eventually, one’s past misdeeds catch up with them.
“Life on the run was filled with dreams … Most were terrifying, the nightmares of the shadows growing bolder and larger. Others were pleasant wishes of a rosy future, free of the past. These were rare, Patrick had learned. Life on the run was life in the past. There was no closure.”[iv]
The story is, overall, a well-crafted mystery, though it is perhaps the controversial ending that can be considered as the real highlight of the novel (or its downfall), which also brings out the title’s hidden connotation.
The novel presents the story from a third-person point of view, and the narrative is built slowly, initiating the reader into darkness at the beginning and gradually revealing the details and introducing the characters. The narration is dispassionate and cynical. It takes time for the story to grip the reader’s attention, but once it does, it can become a true page-turner and put the reader on the edge of their seat. There is attention to detail in the plot, and Patrick’s scheme is elaborate and woven-together well, although it presents a more Hollywood-esque picture of the world than one would imagine it to be. This is especially visible in how conveniently some things work out for Patrick’s plan to be effective, like how he was able to tap every desk and phone in his office, and how easily the firm’s account manager fell for the forged instructions to wire out the $90 million when presented by a disguised Patrick.
The theme of greed for money runs through the story. It is the driving force behind Patrick’s master plan of stealing his firm’s money, which had been earned by duping the government, and fleeing the country. Similarly, Patrick’s wife spares no thought for him and had only been interested in the insurance money when he was pronounced dead. The ending, too, circles back to the theme that the only thing this world revolves around is money. Another feature of the novel is that it serves as a revenge fantasy. Patrick first steals the money from the unethical and selfish senior partners of the firm, after learning that they planned to fire him before he could cash in on their criminal conspiracy alongside a client to defraud the government. Subsequently, his former partners and the robbed client are on the hunt for his blood for years, waiting for their revenge after being conned by him and having their lives and reputations destroyed.
The characters could have been better fleshed out – the protagonist himself is hardly someone to warm to, being a crooked lawyer who seems to be all about calculation and strategy, though the readers still might find themselves rooting for him as they accompany him on his journey of being captured. Little is also known of Patrick’s love, Eva Marinda. Introduced as a zealous and successful Brazilian lawyer committed to balancing the male-female ratio of partners at her firm, she leaves her life behind to aid Patrick. In the process, she essentially turns into his mimic after being trained by him on how to disguise herself and survive life on the run. For this reason, she is often criticised as fitting the Chameleon stereotype to the T and not possessing any identity of her own.[v] The remorseless, mechanical style of exploring the characters does, however, add to the suspense and intrigue of the plot. The story is committed to creating a world of manipulation, secrecy, and deceit, with no place for solidarity or personal relationships.
The cold nature of the narrative is amplified by whatever little we do know of the hero and his ambitions. Like in many of his other novels, the protagonist of Grisham’s The Partner is not blessed with a satisfying career, and drops out of society to choose a life of luxurious seclusion.[vi] According to the author, the main dream of escape for lawyers is to get out of the profession, and it is this escapist fiction that The Partner represents.[vii] It certainly stokes one’s fantasy of disappearing to begin a new life in a strange city. Over the course of the story, however, it shatters this fantastical illusion of a perfect life as an outlaw in a foreign country with all the money in the world, since a life lived on the run is a life spent perpetually looking over your shoulder. Whether judgment day comes for Patrick or not, though, is for the reader to discover.
All in all, the themes of greed for money, revenge, calculated conspiracies and manipulation are well-established in and conveyed through the story. It may prove to be an interesting read for those fond of legal thrillers about an arm-bending and back-stabbing white-collar world.
[i] John Grisham, The Partner, 208 (1st ed., 1998).
[ii] Mel Gussow, John Grisham’s Escape into Legal Thrillers, The New York Times (31/03/1997), available at https://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/31/books/grisham-s-escape-into-legal-thrillers.html, last seen on 22/01/2021.
[iv] John Grisham, The Partner, 118 (1st ed., 1998).z
[v] Carrie S. Coffman, Gingerbread Women: Stereotypical Female Attorneys in the Novels of John Grisham, 8 Southern California Review of Law and Women’s Studies, 73 (1998).
[vi] William H. Simon, Moral Pluck: Legal Ethics in Popular Culture, 101 Columbia Law Review 421, 445 (2001), available at https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1196&context=faculty_scholarship, last seen on 02/02/2021.
[vii] Supra 2.
This book review has been authored by Jessica Kaur, Associate Editor at RSRR.