cover image Sparring Partners

Sparring Partners

John Grisham. Doubleday, $28.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54932-5

Thinly developed characters and underwhelming plots mar the three entries in bestseller Grisham’s first novella collection. “Homecoming,” the opener, underutilizes Ford County, Miss., attorney Jake Brigance, the lead of Grisham’s debut, A Time to Kill. A couple hand deliver a letter to Jake from Mack Stafford, someone they met on vacation in Costa Rica; he’s an old colleague of Jake’s who fled the county three years earlier after filing for bankruptcy and divorcing his wife. Mack asks Jake for help learning the level of risk he would face if he returned home to reconnect with family he abandoned, including his mother and daughters. The story line ends with a whimper, presenting no genuine ethical dilemmas. Readers will struggle to feel any sense of gross injustice in “Strawberry Moon,” about the last hours of a young man facing execution for a crime he aided in as a teen. Equally unmemorable is the title tale, which focuses on machinations at a law firm. Mundane prose doesn’t help (“It was one of those raw, windy, dreary Monday afternoons in February when gloom settled over the land”). Grisham has done a lot better. Agent: David Gernert, Gernert Co. (May)