January 28, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

If you’ve ever dipped into a John Grisham novel, then you’ve probably figured out pretty quickly how you feel about his work. Fast of pace and flat of character, Grisham’s best-selling legal thrillers either keep you up all night or put you directly to sleep. His smooth and blandly diverting new offering, The Associate, is unlikely to change anyone’s verdict.

The hero is the classic Grisham type, a sharp, ambitious young lawyer at a moral crossroads (though there is never any doubt that he will make the right decision in the end). Fresh out of Yale Law School, 25-year-old Kyle McAvoy is a sober straight arrow heading for a job in public service. Alas, he has not always behaved so nobly. Back in college, Kyle ? was present one night (albeit blotto and semiconscious) when a woman might or might not have been gang-raped at his fraternity house. Lest we lose sympathy with Kyle and his buddies, Grisham makes clear that, ? however reprehensible their behavior, the putative victim was asking for what she got: ”The girl was a wild little thing who’d spent more time in the Beta house than in her dorm room. A groupie, a clinger, a party ? animal with an abundant supply of Daddy’s cash.” Not Grisham’s classiest moment. ? The girl’s flimsy rape charges didn’t stick for want of evidence, but now a stranger presents Kyle with a video of the sordid ? episode. He threatens to broadcast clips unless Kyle signs on at a cutthroat Wall Street firm and becomes a corporate spy. In the agreeably twisty chapters that follow, it’s hard to tell whether Kyle is more disgusted by the blackmailer he tries to unmask, or by the greedy partners running the soulless firm he halfheartedly infiltrates. The novel is vintage Grisham, for better or worse, made timely with its sorry portrait of what passes for everyday ethics on Wall Street. B

Click to read EW.com’s exclusive online preview of chapters 1-4 of John Grisham’s The Associate

114 minutes
Donald Petrie
Dianne Weist,
Michel Serrault,
Bebe Neuwirth,
Nich Thiel,
Nick Thiel
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