Much like "The Testament", the only other Grisham book I've read, "The Partner" was a pleasant, entertaining surprise. It's a fast, deeply satisfying read that keeps you hooked throughout, with a non-stop pace and a plot full of twists and surprises. Like "The Testament", it's a story about greed and comeuppance, about men fighting to outwit each other using whatever means available.
The book starts with the capture and torture of a fugitive, Patrick Lanigan, who was believed dead but has been hiding in Brazil for the past four years. It's a shocking, electric start that immediately hooks you into the story; Grisham places us right in the middle of an ongoing story, dropping enough hints to keep you wanting to know more and to keep reading. Lanigan is taken back to the United States, where the initial shock of his resurrection is quickly followed by a barrage of lawsuits thrown at Lanigan from 5 or 6 different places. We discover that Lanigan faked his death, stole 90 million dollars from a client his old law firm was defending and proceeded to disappear for four years. We, along with the many lawyers and investigators assigned to Lanigan's case, slowly begin to unravel the mystery of the man's disappearance; why and how he stole the money, how he faked his death, how he disappeared, how he was found, what's going to happen now that he's found. It's a complicated, messy case that's simply fascinating to follow, and Grisham makes sure to keep us wondering right to the very last page.
Grisham also loves to play with our feelings towards the main characters. He presents Lanigan as a victim instead of a criminal, and you start out wondering why we should feel any sympathy for him. He stole 90 million dollars and ran away! he faked his death and left behind all his friends and his family! Why am I supposed to like this guy? And yet, the more we get to know the case and the other characters, the more we come to (grudgingly at first) respect and like Lanigan. It's not like Grisham gives us much choice, setting the story in a world where everyone is corrupt and dirty, where men fool around with fortunes and millions as if they're toys, using whatever means necessary to get more money and more power. Lanigan's means are objectionable, particularly because of how much he throws in the face of the system trying to punish him for something you just don't do, but it's this anti-hero aspect that makes the book so interesting. We want to take sides with the "good guys", but what happens when the good guys aren't that great? It's easy to see who the bad guys are, but everyone else is coated in shades of gray.
My only problem with the book is that, for all his conniving and smart moves, I still left with no clear idea of who Patrick was. I could be missing something, but Grisham wraps Patrick in so much mystery, and he shows him to us mostly through the eyes of the other characters that it's hard to get a clear picture of the man. People seem to like and respect him from his previous life, but why? What I'm trying to say is that he didn't seem to have much of a personality to him, certainly not enough to have a beautiful Brazilian woman (who fell in love with him in about 3 days) helping him along, or a team of helpful friends who don't seem to mind that he made them all believe he was dead for four years.
But this book isn't really a character study, so I can't complain too much. It's about unraveling a complicated plot, about one man using the system against itself, and for that, it's a great read. The legalese is easy to understand and there are enough 'ta-da!' moments to keep you satisfied while it keeps you guessing answers for all the other mysteries in the story. I definitely recommend it as a fast weekend read.