The Associate by John Grisham

March 30, 2009

the-associate Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Kyle McAvoy seems to have a bright future ahead of him. He’s finishing up his last year at Yale Law, where he’s editor of the law review, and is fielding offers from all the biggest firms on Wall Street. He can easily get a starting salary in the $200,000 range the minute he graduates — but he has a different plan in mind. Kyle wants to work for an organization that helps provide legal representation to the poor and underprivileged. Sure, he’d only be pulling in $30k that way, but his law school loans would be forgiven and he’d be doing some good.

Unfortunately, it seems that Kyle’s not in control of his own destiny after all. One night he’s visited by a group of FBI agents who force Kyle to accompany them to a New York City hotel room to talk about an incident from Kyle’s past. When he was a sophomore at Duquesne University, he and three frat brothers were accused of raping a coed named Elaine Keenan. But because Elaine was known as a girl who liked to drink, use drugs, and sleep around, and because she inexplicably waited until four days after the alleged assault to talk to the police, the case was dropped. There was simply not enough evidence to pursue charges.

Not enough evidence, that is, until now, when the lead FBI agent Bennie shows Kyle a video recorded from a cell phone on the night of the incident. Kyle is clearly there, as well as pals Baxter Tate and Joey Bernardo. At one point, Joey asks, “Is she conscious?” before climbing on top of Elaine, so the video could definitely be damaging. Bennie threatens to release the video online and give a copy to the police — essentially ruining Kyle’s reputation and career — unless Kyle agrees to accept a job at Scully & Pershing, one of the big-time Wall Street firms he planned on turning down. And no, Bennie’s not really an FBI agent.

It turns out that Bennie wants Kyle at Scully & Pershing because he needs a spy who can get him important documents related to a massive $800 billion dollar lawsuit between two companies vying for the largest government defense contract ever. Bennie and his fellow thugs have bugged Kyle’s apartment, phones, and computer, and follow him wherever he goes. He’s completely under their thumb — until he finally decides to go to the FBI himself to remedy the situation.


  • Some of the insights about what goes on in a massive law firm were pretty interesting. I can’t say I’m surprised at all the billing abuse that Grisham highlighted here.
  • The basic premise of the story was intriguing, though it was a bit too much like The Firm whereby the main character was forced to stay at a particular firm and do things against his will.
  • I thought it was funny that Kyle read espionage novels just to get a taste for what he would be up against and to get some ideas for protecting himself.


  • There was so much filler in this novel that it was unbelievable. I found the Baxter Tate rehab subplot to be extremely boring, and hated breaking away from the main action to check in on him. I also found the Joey Bernardo scenes to be slow-moving as well — particularly since he just sort of faded from the story and didn’t have anything to do with the resolution after all.
  • I thought Grisham spent a bit too much time lamenting about how poorly new associates at major law firms are treated. So what if they have to work 100 hours a week and keep a sleeping bag under their desk. They’re getting paid $200k for making copies! Hell, I’d do that for a year in a heartbeat for that kind of salary!
  • Kyle wasn’t much of a well-defined protagonist. I never got a real sense of who he was in this book because his actions and thoughts seemed so generic. Plus, he was kind of a whiner, which I didn’t like at all.
  • I don’t get why Kyle even allowed himself to be blackmailed in the first place when he ended up just going to the FBI in the end. I mean, if he had done that the moment Bennie approached him, he would have saved himself a year of grief. Every single thing he did at the end (settling with Elaine, consulting a lawyer, confessing to S&P partners) could have been done right at the start, since there were no significant changes during the course of the novel. That part made absolutely no sense at all.


I usually like John Grisham’s stuff, but I have to say that The Associate was a huge disappointment. The story dragged on and on, and there wasn’t even a satisfying ending to compensate for the boring plot. If you feel compelled to read this because you’re a Grisham fan, then be forewarned: it’s not nearly as exciting as his earlier works. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

One Response to “The Associate by John Grisham”

  1. I wish I knew of this site before buying this book, because I agree with you that it is a terrible book. I loved how Grisham felt the need to constantly portray Benny as a villain by ending every scene with him by writing “Benny left Kyle’s apartment with a (sinister or devious) grin. There also was never any explanation on how the bad guys procured the video of the rape.

    As bad as this book is, this isn’t the worst Grisham novel. The worst Grisham novel is definitely “The Street Lawyer.” Review that if you want another 0-star book on this website.

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