Sparring Partners

Sparring Partners

Unabridged — 9 hours, 57 minutes

Sparring Partners

Sparring Partners

Unabridged — 9 hours, 57 minutes

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Notes From Your Bookseller

What could be more intense than a thriller by John Grisham? How about three novellas in one book? Your summer reading list just got a boost.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ¿ John Grisham is the acknowledged master of the legal thriller. In his first collection of novellas, law is a common thread, but America's favorite storyteller has several surprises in store.
“Homecoming” takes us back to Ford County, the fictional setting of many of John Grisham's unforgettable stories. Jake Brigance is back, but he's not in the courtroom. He's called upon to help an old friend, Mack Stafford, a former lawyer in Clanton, who three years earlier became a local legend when he stole money from his clients, divorced his wife, filed for bankruptcy, and left his family in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again-until now. Now Mack is back, and he's leaning on his old pals, Jake and Harry Rex, to help him return. His homecoming does not go as planned.

In “Strawberry Moon,” we meet Cody Wallace, a young death row inmate only three hours away from execution. His lawyers can't save him, the courts slam the door, and the governor says no to a last-minute request for clemency. As the clock winds down, Cody has one final request. 

The “Sparring Partners” are the Malloy brothers, Kirk and Rusty, two successful young lawyers who inherited a once prosperous firm when its founder, their father, was sent to prison. Kirk and Rusty loathe each other, and speak to each other only when necessary. As the firm disintegrates, the resulting fiasco falls into the lap of Diantha Bradshaw, the only person the partners trust. Can she save the Malloys, or does she take a stand for the first time in her career and try to save herself?

By turns suspenseful, hilarious, powerful, and moving, these are three of the greatest stories John Grisham has ever told.

Don't miss John Grisham's new book, THE EXCHANGE: AFTER THE FIRM!

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


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)

From the Publisher

John Grisham is about as good a storyteller as we’ve got in the United States these days.” The New York Times Book Review

"Grisham’s work—always superior entertainment—is evolving into something more serious, more powerful, more worthy of his exceptional talent." The Washington Post
“The law, by its nature, creates drama, and a new Grisham promises us an inside look at the dirty machineries of process and power, with plenty of entertainment.”Los Angeles Times

“A legal literary legend.” USA Today

JUNE 2022 - AudioFile

Three excellent narrators—Jeff Daniels, Ethan Hawke, and January LaVoy—make this audiobook’s three novellas engrossing. Daniels's low-key, sometimes gravelly, performance in "Homecoming" is perfect for this story about a mostly struggling Mississippi lawyer who assists a friend who stole some money and disappeared, but who now wants to return. Hawke’s work with voices is particularly good in "Strawberry Moon," the story of a death row inmate who is facing his final hours and fading hopes. LaVoy narrates "Sparring Partners," a story of family dysfunction and a law firm in trouble. LaVoy carries the dialogue and narrative portions with the right amount of drama and verve, and is great with both male and female voices. A highly entertaining listen. G.S. 2023 Audies Winner © AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine

Kirkus Reviews

Three Grisham novellas show the less glorious side of the legal profession.

In the first, Homecoming, Jake Brigance is a lawyer in a small Mississippi town with too many lawyers. One day, his office receives an envelope containing a note and enough cash for a one-week vacation to Costa Rica for Jake and his wife. All he’s asked to do is convey a message and relay the response. The offer/request is from Mack Stafford, an attorney who’d skipped town three years earlier with $400,000 of his clients’ money, leaving behind his wife, two teenage daughters, and clients who still don’t even know they’ve been bilked. Now he feels bad and wants to come home and reestablish contact with family. Will they want anything to do with him? No startling twists, but Mack is surprisingly sympathetic given what he’s done. In Strawberry Moon, 29-year-old Cody Wallace sits on death row for a botched robbery-turned-murder committed when he was 14. His brother had pulled the trigger on the homeowners and was killed in the shootout. Over the years, Cody’s lawyer has tried every legal trick and delaying tactic he could, and now it’s execution day. The only hope left is clemency from the governor. Meanwhile, Cody’s sole visitor has been his lawyer, although a Midwestern woman has corresponded with him and sent him books—lots of books. With execution imminent, he has one last wish that’s against prison rules and could get a friendly guard fired. The last yarn, Sparring Partners, features a most dysfunctional family of lawyers. Bolton Malloy is the disbarred head of Malloy & Malloy and is serving prison time for killing his wife, a most disagreeable woman whom no one misses. Rusty and Kirk, his two lawyer sons, despise each other as well as dear old dad, but their old man has forced them to sign an agreement never to leave the firm without paying a serious penalty. Bolton hopes to get out of prison soon, but the kids hope otherwise. So while the first two stories are touching, the last is anything but. You just want everybody to slither back under a rock—or maybe under separate rocks.

Grisham’s fans will enjoy these tales of betrayal, hope, and dysfunction.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940178851159
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 05/31/2022
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 540,986

Read an Excerpt



It was one of those raw, windy, dreary Monday afternoons in February when gloom settled over the land and seasonal depression was rampant. Court was not in session. The phone wasn’t ringing. Petty criminals and other potential clients were busy elsewhere with no thoughts whatsoever of hiring lawyers. The occasional caller was more likely to be a man or woman still reeling from holiday overspending and seeking advice about unpaid credit card accounts. Those were quickly sent next door, or across the square, or anywhere.

Jake was at his desk upstairs, making little progress with the stack of paperwork he’d been neglecting for weeks, even months. With no court or hearings scheduled for days, it should have been a good time to catch up with the old stuff—the fish files that every lawyer had for some reason said yes to a year ago and now just wanted to go away. The upside of a small-town law practice, especially in your hometown, was that everyone knew your name, and that was what you wanted. It was important to be well thought of and well liked, with a good reputation. When your neighbors got in trouble, you wanted to be the man they called. The downside was that their cases were always mundane and rarely profitable. But, you couldn’t say no. The gossip was fierce and unrelenting, and a lawyer who turned his back on his friends would not last long.

His funk was interrupted when Alicia, his current part-time secretary, chimed in through his desk phone. “Jake, there’s a couple here to see you.”

A couple. Married but wanting to get unmarried. Another cheap divorce. He glanced at his daily planner though he knew there was nothing.

“Do they have an appointment?” he asked, but only to remind Alicia that she shouldn’t be bothering him with the foot traffic.

“No. But they’re very nice and they say it’s really urgent. They’re not going away, said it wouldn’t take but a few minutes.”

Jake loathed being bullied in his own office. On a busier day he would take a stand and get rid of them. “Do they appear to have any money?” The answer was always no.

“Well, they do seem rather affluent.”

Affluent? In Ford County. Somewhat intriguing.

Alicia continued, “They’re from Memphis and just passing through, but, again, they say it’s very important.”

“Any idea what it is?”


Well, it wouldn’t be a divorce if they lived in Memphis. He ran through a list of possibilities—Grandma’s will, some old family land, maybe a kid busted for drugs over at Ole Miss. Since he was bored and mildly curious and needed an excuse to avoid the paperwork, he asked, “Did you tell them that I’m tied up in a settlement conference call with a dozen lawyers?”


“Did you tell them I’m due in federal court over in Oxford and can only spare a moment or two?”


“Did you tell them that I’m slammed with other appointments?”

“No. It’s pretty obvious the place is empty and the phone isn’t ringing.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in the kitchen, so I can talk.”

“Okay, okay. Make some fresh coffee and put ’em in the conference room. I’ll be down in ten minutes.”


The first thing Jake noticed was their tans. They had obviously been somewhere in the sun. No one else in Clanton had a tan in February. The second thing he noticed was the woman’s smart short haircut, with a touch of gray, stylish and obviously expensive. He noticed the handsome sports coat on the gentleman. Both were well dressed and nicely groomed, a departure from the usual walk-ins.

He shook their hands as he got their names. Gene and Kathy Roupp, from Memphis. Late fifties, quite pleasant, with confident smiles showing rows of well-maintained teeth. Jake could easily picture them on a Florida golf course living the good life behind gates and guards.

“What can I do for you folks?” Jake asked.

Gene flashed a smile and went first. “Well, sad to say, but we’re not here as potential clients.”

Jake kept it loose with a fake smile and an aw-shucks shrug, as if to say, What the hell? What lawyer needs to get paid for his time? He’d give them about ten more minutes and one cup before showing them the door.

“We just got back from a month in Costa Rica, one of our favorites. Ever been to Costa Rica?”

“No. I hear it’s great.” He’d heard nothing of the sort but what else could he say? He would never admit that he had left the United States exactly once in his thirty-eight years. Foreign travel was only a dream.

“We love it down there, a real paradise. Beautiful beaches, mountains, rain forests, great food. We have some friends who own houses—real estate is pretty cheap. The people are delightful, educated, almost all speak English.”

Jake loathed the game of travel trivia because he’d never been anywhere. The local doctors were the worst—always bragging about the hottest new resorts.

Kathy was itching to move along the narrative and chimed in with “The golf is incredible, so many fabulous courses.”

Jake didn’t play golf because he was not a member of the Clanton Country Club. Its membership included too many doctors and climbers and families with old money.

He smiled and nodded at her and waited for one of them to continue. From a bag he couldn’t see she whipped out a pound of coffee in a shiny can and said, “Here’s a little gift, San Pedro Select, our favorite. Incredible. We haul it back by the case.”

Jake took it to be polite. In lieu of cash fees, he had been paid with watermelons, fresh venison, firewood, repairs to his cars, and more bartered goods and services than he cared to remember. His best lawyer buddy, Harry Rex Vonner, had once taken a John Deere mower as a fee, though it soon broke down. Another lawyer, one who was no longer practicing, had taken sexual favors from a divorce client. When he lost the case, she filed an ethics complaint alleging “substandard performance.”

Anyway, Jake admired the can and tried to read the Spanish. He noticed they had not touched their coffee, and he was suddenly worried that perhaps they were connoisseurs and his office brew wasn’t quite up to their standards.

Gene resumed with “So, two weeks ago we were at one of our favorite eco-lodges, high in the mountains, deep in the rain forest, a small place with only thirty rooms, incredible views.”

How many times might they use the word “incredible”?

“And we were having breakfast outdoors, watching the spider monkeys and parakeets, when a waiter stopped by our table to pour some more coffee. He was very friendly—”

“People are so friendly down there and they love Americans,” Kathy interjected.

How could they not?

Gene nodded at the interruption and continued, “We chatted him up for a spell, said his name was Jason and that he was from Florida, been living down there for twenty years. We saw him again at lunch and talked to him some more. We saw him around after that and always enjoyed a friendly chat. The day before we were to check out, he asked us to join him for a glass of champagne in a little tree-house bar. He was off-duty and said the drinks were on him. The sunsets over the mountains are incredible, and we were having a good time, when all of a sudden he got serious.”

Gene paused and looked at Kathy, who was ready to pounce with “He said he had something to tell us, something very confidential. Said his name was not really Jason and he wasn’t from Florida. He apologized for not being truthful. Said his name was really Mack Stafford, and that he was from Clanton, Mississippi.”

Jake tried to remain nonchalant but it was impossible. His mouth dropped open and his eyes widened.

The Roupps were watching closely for his reaction. Gene said, “I take it you know Mack Stafford.”

Jake exhaled and wasn’t sure what to say. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

“He said you guys were old friends,” Gene added.

Stunned, Jake was still grasping for words. “I’m just glad he’s alive.”

“So you know him well?”

“Oh yes, quite well.”

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