Thirty-two years after “The Firm” launched his career as a legal novelist who churns out bestselling books that almost invariably become movies, John Grisham returns with a sequel starring Mitch McDeere.
In “The Exchange,” it’s 2000 and McDeere is now a high-powered partner at the world’s largest law firm, Scully & Pershing, having “established a reputation as a sort of legal SWAT team leader sent in by Scully to rescue clients in distress.” He lives a very privileged life in Manhattan with his wife and two young boys.
Grisham fans will love the first 37 pages, as McDeere travels back to Memphis for the first time since the events in “The Firm” and meets with an old friend. It’s an excuse for Grisham to fill in the 15-year time gap since Mitch and his wife Abby fled Memphis on the run from the Chicago mob, who was hunting him for his role exposing crimes at Bendini, Lambert & Locke, but it’s inconsequential to the new story Grisham has to tell.
That narrative kicks off when Mitch is called to Rome to take the lead on a case involving a Turkish company that built a $400 million bridge to nowhere in the Libyan desert that Colonel Gaddafi (yes, it’s the year 2000 and the Libyan dictator is still alive) is now refusing to pay for. When Mitch assigns a London-based Scully associate to go on a fact-finding mission to the bridge, she is taken hostage and this legal thriller pretty much drops the adjective and just becomes a thriller.
Mitch’s job is not to legally outsmart his colleague’s captors, but to try and make sure she’s not beheaded by terrorists by working every angle to come up with their ransom. The action skips from New York to Rome to London to Tripoli to Istanbul and it’s very easy to imagine the establishing aerial shots in the movie version as the plot crosses continents.
Grisham fans will devour it; but there were times when this reader wished the action would slow down a little so we could spend some time with the characters. Mitch is always on the move — in a car, on a plane, in a boardroom — conversations are clipped, and the plot pace is furious.
Grisham certainly reflects the urgency of Mitch’s mission in his writing, but some of the best parts of the book are when the story gets a chance to breathe a little, as in this scene on a boat off the coast of Maine:
“Tanner inched the throttle up a notch and the wake grew wider. They were nearing a cove with the Atlantic not far away. The water was deep blue and flat, but an occasional wave sent mist over the boat and refreshed everyone. With his left hand, Mitch reached over and took hers.”
It’s not much, but in this frenetic novel, it’s a moment that conveys the love between Mitch and Abby without words and maybe, just maybe, the promise of an extended future where they aren’t always on the run.