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Grisham's Morality Tale in a World Without Morality

The Partner

By John Grisham

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Doubleday, 368 pp., $26.95

The world of John Grisham's latest novel, "The Partner," (Doubleday, 368 pp., $26.95) is a dark, cynical place where almost everyone acts from the basest of motives: greed, revenge, unbridled ambition.

It revolves around young lawyer Patrick Lanigan, new partner in a high-powered Biloxi, Miss., law firm, who supposedly died in a fiery car crash four years ago.

But that illusion itself died within weeks after $90 million disappeared from the law firm's offshore bank account, destroying the firm and launching a desperate search for the runaway Lanigan.

The local police, FBI, insurance companies who paid Lanigan's widow $2.5 million, and the man whose money has vanished are stopping at nothing to find him and retrieve the cash. As the book opens, a private detective has tracked him to Brazil, where he has taken on a new identity and a new mistress, a lovely female lawyer.

The opening of this book contains a graphic scene in which Lanigan is tortured, the consequences of which play a major role in the plot. While he is brought back to face trial in the United States, the money is still missing, and only one person - Lanigan's lover - knows where it is.

All the convoluted elements of a pageturning thriller are here: the hard edge of a Raymond Chandler; the brilliant legal maneuvering of an Erle Stanley Gardner; the surprise ending of an O. Henry or an Agatha Christie.

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In a world where it appears everyone is swindling everyone else, there's no telling until the very end who will end up with what. Yet this is also a morality tale. People pay for their deeds. Friendship counts for something, and there are good people (including public servants) who do the right thing.

If you're a Grisham fan, this latest volume won't let you down. If you haven't yet been introduced to the master of the legal thriller, "The Partner" is a fine place to start.

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