Making a move that's sure to delight connoisseurs of the legal thriller, John Grisham takes something of a sentimental journey in his latest novel, The Associate, on sale January 27. The book's plot might sound strangely familiar to fans of his 1991 blockbuster, The Firm: newly minted Ivy League law school grad takes job with powerhouse firm and soon finds himself in deep trouble. That book catapulted Grisham to perennial bestsellerdom and established him as the superstar of the legal thriller genre.

The character at the heart of The Firm was Mitch McDeere, a cocky kid just out of Harvard Law who discovers that the Memphis firm that hired him is controlled by the Mob. In the successful 1993 film adaptation, McDeere was portrayed by Tom Cruise, an inspired piece of casting that gave a strong boost to Cruise's career and Grisham's film franchise. Author Photo

Grisham sets his new novel, The Associate, in New York City, the first time that one of his books has taken place entirely in the city that never sleeps. Where better to follow the dilemma facing young lawyer Kyle McAvoy, described by Grisham's publisher as "one of the outstanding legal students of his generation: he's good looking, has a brilliant mind and a glittering future ahead of him. But he has a secret from his past, a secret that threatens to destroy his fledgling career and, possibly, his entire life."

In a note posted on his UK website, Grisham comments on the similarities between the two characters: "Kyle reminds me of another young lawyer, Mitch McDeere, who was featured in one of my earlier novels, The Firm. Like Mitch, Kyle finds himself in way over his head, with no one to turn to and no place to hide."

As The Associate opens, Kyle has just graduated from Yale Law when he discovers that his dark secret has been captured on video. He's shocked when, instead of demanding money, the blackmailers put a surprising price on their secrecy: they ask Kyle to take a job at the largest law firm in the world, and one of the best in New York City. He's soon making big money and on the track to a partnership, but what his employers don't know is that he's sharing information about a crucial trial between two defense contractors with his blackmailers.

With his future on the line, Kyle is caught between the criminals and the FBI, who suspect a leak and are investigating his firm. Though he's one of the top young associates, does Kyle have what it takes to get out of this dilemma—without destroying his future? The only thing that's for certain is that readers will be turning the pages as fast as they can to find out.

Grisham's agent has already landed a film deal for The Associate with Paramount Pictures, no small feat at a time when the economic slowdown finds even best-selling authors having trouble selling their stories to studios. The film will star Shia LaBeouf, a choice that might surprise moviegoers who remember him best as the shaggy teen star of the Disney Channel and the movie Holes. At 22, however, LaBeouf has grown into a handsome young actor and bona fide Hollywood celebrity (with the arrest record to prove it). This film will be his sixth major movie for Paramount, including the 2007 hit Transformers. A director has yet to be named for The Associate, which will be the 12th film based on a Grisham book or story.

Grisham remains active in the legal world, regularly serving as host or keynote speaker at events for organizations like the Legal Aid Justice Center. At a recent benefit in Virginia, guests bid on the right to have a character in an upcoming Grisham novel named after them. Grisham has also faced legal issues of his own related to his 2006 work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, based on the life of Ron Williamson, who was wrongly imprisoned for murder. Grisham and two other writers who've written about Williamson's case were sued for defamation of character by three of the Oklahoma law enforcement officials who prosecuted Williamson back in 1982. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the justice system deserved the criticism it received. George Clooney has purchased the film rights to The Innocent Man, which is currently in development. 

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