Southern lawyer turned novelist John Grisham is out with his latest.

Since his breakthrough novel and movie, "The Firm," readers have been asking what happened later to Mitch McDeere and his wife, the heroes who fled a mob-controlled law firm in Memphis, who escaped by boat from Panama City, Fla., to Caribbean seclusion.

The situation we readers were left in at the close of "The Firm" cried out for a sequel. It never came – until now.

Grisham and McDeere have left their comfort zone, the South. Gone are small-town Mississippi, Memphis, New Orleans, Arkansas and the Florida Panhandle. I kept looking for the expected: Grisham scenes in Southern barbeque joints. Good ole' boys in bars. Fundamentalist churches. Grisham's latest gave up all that for a jet-setting plot from New York to Rome to Tripoli with a brief winding up in Grisham's familiar bank haven, the Cayman Islands.

Grisham, like many novelists, writes what he knows. He was raised in a north Mississippi suburb of Memphis. He graduated from Mississippi State University and Ole Miss Law School (no wonder he rarely includes Alabama.) He practiced small-town, small-firm law for a decade in Mississippi. He served a term in the Mississippi state legislature. He was and is a Democrat. He is strongly critical of death row and the death penalty in real life and his novels.

The sequel moves the McDeeres from Memphis to an opposite venue, Manhattan, N.Y. There, McDeere is again working 60 hours a week for a corporate law firm, the largest in the world. Instead of discovering the mob as a main client, McDeere and his wife get into an international crisis. A firm partner in London is taken hostage and held for ransom by a terrorist group in Libya. It ends up falling on McDeere and wife to arrange an exchange – one lady lawyer for $100 million. Hence, the title of the book.

"The Exchange" may be the worst Grisham book I have read, meaning that, while I couldn't put it down, it took three days to finish it instead of my normal one day.

A few Grisham books have had some Alabama connections – the chase in "The Firm" through Mobile and the famous FloraBama joint on the Alabama-Florida line and Alabama death row cases. A Florida bar investigator found a witness in Mobile. This time, "The Exchange" has almost no Alabama nexus, only a mention of an Alabama death penalty case.

Does the ending, with McDeere quitting the firm but with a proper resignation, leave room for a second McDeere sequel? Maybe. McDeere's new powerful Italian friend and daughter, both partners also resigning from the firm, will continue representing huge clients in Italy. Will McDeere join these two in another sequel, the next Grisham novel, set in Italy? That's a good prediction, as Grisham lived briefly in Italy and set two previous novels there.

The Exchange can be purchased here.

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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