It is no secret that author John Grisham opposes the death penalty. The subject of the government being able to legally put some of its criminals to death through either hanging, electrocution, or lethal injection runs through many of his writings. The main storylines of his books “The Confession” and “The Chamber” deal with the subject. Mr. Grisham does a masterful job of showing the flaws with our judicial system, and why we may want to end the death penalty in our country.
In “The Reckoning”, we meet the character of Pete Banning, a farmer from Clanton, Mississippi. He has a wife and two children that he adores, and a staff of servants that he considers part of the family. When he is drafted during World War II, he is sent off to the Philippines.
While there, he is captured by the Japanese army and almost dies on the Bataan Death March. Much historic background is included, and an extremely detailed description of the torturous existence of prisoners of war. Pete’s family back home in Mississippi is notified that he is missing in action and presumed dead. His wife has a nervous breakdown and ends up in an insane asylum. Miraculously, Pete’s life is spared and he comes home to his family. It seems like a happy ending.
But one day, Pete calmly walks into the office of their well-respected minister, and shoots him dead on the spot. Why would he do such a thing? Pete has nothing to say. Because it is a cold-blooded murder, the state seeks the death penalty for him. You spend most of the book wondering why Pete did it, and thinking there had to be more to the story than the obvious reason implied at the beginning of the book.
If you are really into history, especially World War II, this book will appeal to you. The descriptions of war and imprisonment are quite vivid, and create a picture in the mind about how truly terrible it was. But the following part of the story concerning whether Pete should get the death penalty or not, is just as terrible. Capital punishment is never a subject that we should take lightly, and the author does an excellent job of asking us to continue to examine the issue.