First edition cover
Published in English
|Media type||Hardcover, paperback|
|LC Class||PS3557.R5355 P35 1997|
The book in effect begins where several other Grisham novels (The Firm, The Runaway Jury, The Racketeer) end - i.e. with the protagonist getting possession of a large sum of money and managing to spirit it away to off-shore banking accounts. As the present book shows, that does not automatically guarantee a Happy ending, since the protagonist's past might catch up with him or her in unpleasant ways.
The book begins with a band of American and Brazilian thugs locating a man they had long hunted in south Brazil, and proceeding to kidnap him and subject him to severe electrical shocks in order to extract information about the whereabouts of a sum of ninety million Dollars he had taken.As the plot continues, the reader gradually discovers what had gone before - though some some points of the past events are only clarified at the very end.
Four years earlier Patrick Lanigan, a junior partner in a law firm in Biloxi, Mississippi, gets wind of a plan masterminded by shipbuilding magnate Benny Aricia to defraud the U.S. government through an overcharging scheme. His firm is deeply involved in the scam and stands to gain $30 million, yet plans to keep Patrick from sharing the profits. He bides his time, secretly collecting evidence. He knows that simply stealing the money and running won't work, so he feigns his own death in an automobile accident. When the body is found, it is identified as Patrick, though it is badly burned, and subsequently cremated. Patrick watches his own funeral from a safe distance. His wife Trudy received $2.5 million in life insurance.
Although he pretended not to know, Trudy had been cheating on him throughout their marriage, and his daughter was the result of that relationship.
Six weeks later, $90 million vanishes from the law firm's off-shore bank account. The associates know that only an insider had the knowledge to pull it off and eventually they start wondering if Patrick is really dead after all. Without the money, the associates and Benny Aricia are in deep financial trouble. Benny hires specialist Jack Stephano to track down Patrick.
Over four years later, Patrick is finally discovered living a new life in Ponta Porã, Brazil, a small town on the border of Paraguay under the name Danilo Silva. His girlfriend is Brazilian lawyer Eva Miranda. Patrick is kidnapped and tortured by thugs hired by Jack Stephano. They try to get him to reveal the location of the money, which, conveniently, Lanigan doesn't know. Before he is tortured more or even killed, the FBI intervenes (tipped off by Eva). The FBI leans on Jack Stephano to hand over the fugitive and Patrick is repatriated. After arriving back in Biloxi in custody of the FBI, a series of legal battles ensue.
The insurance companies Monarch-Sierra and Northern Case Mutual that paid $2.5 million to Trudy, who has subsequently been a complete spendthrift as well as openly resuming her once-adulterous relationship, immediately sue and block access to the insurance money. Trudy is now in a difficult position, as she can no longer afford even the most basic trappings of her extravagant lifestyle. She sues Patrick for divorce, in hopes of receiving some financial compensation. The federal government sues Patrick for theft and fraud on charges of stealing the $90 million. The state charges Patrick with murder, because a dead body was found in Patrick's car.
One by one he deals with his adversaries. He defeats the insurance companies by revealing that they colluded with Benny Aricia to find and torture Patrick. Confronted with this, they agree to let Trudy keep the insurance money, which satisfies her as well. He convinces the federal government by revealing that Benny Aricia defrauded them. An additional inducement to the Federals is that Patrick, having systematically wired the office of his former partners, has evidence implicating a senior Mississippi Senator who is on bad terms with the current Administration. It is hinted that at one point the affair got to the personal attention of the President, who instructed The FBI and Attorney General to lay off Lanigan in exchange for nailing the Senator. He agrees to give back the Federal government 113 million Dollars (the original 90 millions plus interest) which still leaves him with some twenty million Dollars accumulated during these past four years.
With the Federal government out of the picture, Lanigan finally defeats the state lawsuit by revealing that he didn't murder anyone. The body he used was that of a former client of his, who had already died from natural causes. He makes a deal with the federal government to pay back all the money he stole, plus interest. In the years that he was on the run he had instructed Eva to invest the money. Even after his debts are paid, there are still millions left. He leaves the municipal courthouse, says goodbye to family and friends, and departs without delay for his rendezvous with Eva.
In a final, cruel twist, however, Eva doesn't appear at their arranged meeting time and place in Nice, France. Patrick waits and waits, his heart broken, agonizing over potential explanations for her failure to arrive. Has she been detained (again), injured, or worse? Has she actually betrayed him?
When Stephano and his henchmen were closing in, knowing he would inevitably be compelled to divulge the location of and control over the money, Patrick, the meticulous planner, gave Eva complete autonomy over the illicit fortune he'd stolen. He'd spent weeks teaching her how to move money throughout the world, and to do so without leaving a paper trail. He insisted that the only chance they had to retain the money was for him to relinquish any knowledge whatsoever of the money's location; he saw no other way to withstand the legal, political and (ultimately) physical pressure to reveal the money's location.
As the days turn into weeks, Patrick seems to resign himself to the conclusion that she has betrayed him. Heartbroken and virtually penniless, he finally retreats to Ponta Porã, where he ponders selling his house and car and getting a job, his only consolation being to live out his days in a country he loves, near where they met, hoping someday to once again see Eva.
The reader is ultimately left to make a personal decision about the impetus for Eva's disappearance—whether she was arrested, injured, fell ill, perhaps fell victim to retribution by some of Benny Aricia's associates, or even died. The most ironic, yet poignant explanation for her failure to show, of course, would be that she betrayed Patrick and kept the money for herself—maybe even met someone else with whom to share it. Patrick, in his grief, sees betrayal as the reason for her absence, possibly for no other reason than to avoid additional heartache from false hope.
But the story's circumstantial evidence doesn't support a betrayal by Eva as the most likely outcome. Whereas all of the other surprises and twists in the plot were foreshadowed, however subtly, there was no indication whatsoever that Eva had any intention or desire other than to spend her life with Patrick. Every bit of dialog, circumstance, and background involving Eva throughout the story either expanded or reinforced the reader's perception of her dedication to and love for Patrick. Nor was there at any point in the story any hint of a selfish or otherwise unseemly nature in her character.
Whether frustrating or intriguing, each reader will thus be forced to determine the story's end for himself.