The Reckoning – by John Grisham (2018)


The Reckonoing

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.

The Rooster Bar – by John Grisham (2017)

The Rooster Bar

I was painting the kitchen, a tedious project because of all the cupboards to work around. What I needed was an audio-book to listen to while I worked. Cloud Library, our public library’s main e-book service, had this book available. So I checked it out, down-loaded it to my phone, and stuck the phone in my back pocket. As my hand moved back and forth with the paint roller, my mind drifted away with the story.

As usual, this book by John Grisham is about lawyers. Well, almost lawyers. The three main characters – Mark, Todd, and Zola – are law school students on the last stretch of college. Each of them were given large student loans and allowance money for living expenses, all of which they will have to re-pay after they graduate. When they started college, they were told the loans would be easy to pay off because they would be hired by companies with generous salaries. But by their third year, they know that the market is glutted with law students, and only a handful will find work, especially since the college they are attending is sub-par and is owned by a corrupt company.

The thought of having $200,000 debts with no way to repay them drives the three friends to do some desperate things. In the midst of the debt problem, Zola’s parents and brother are arrested by ICE, and deported back to West Africa, where they are held in a jail. Mark and Todd try to help Zola get her family out of jail and somewhere safe.

What I enjoyed most was the loyalty of the friends to each other, and the depth of Zola’s dedication to her family. The scheme that the three friends hatched, however, seemed unrealistic. I seriously doubt if anyone could pull that off. But it sure made for a great story to listen to while painting.

The Racketeer – by John Grisham (2012)

The Racketeer

If you love novels that involve lawyers, wrongful imprisonment, murder mysteries, and hiding from the government, you’re going to enjoy this Grisham book. It begins with Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer who has been stripped of his license, serving a ten-year sentence in a federal facility. Convicted of money laundering- which he did not do – he now spends his time as an informal jailhouse lawyer, looking at other inmates’ cases to see if they have any basis to appeal their sentences.

When a federal judge is murdered in his mountain cabin get-away, Malcolm believes he knows who did it. If he can just convince the FBI of the identity of the murderer, he may have the rest of his sentence commuted. But as it turns out, the story isn’t quite as cut and dried as first thought. Does Malcolm have the right man? If he’s wrong, what are the consequences?

Camino Island – by John Grisham (2017)

Camino Island

When I heard that John Grisham’s newest novel was about valuable books that were stolen from a library, I thought: hey, just my kind of book – a book about books! And I didn’t even have to wait for months on a list to get it, as an express copy was available at my neighborhood library. It didn’t take long to dive into the story.

It begins with the heist. Five guys look to strike it rich by stealing original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which are under lock and key at the Princeton library. They succeed, and then have the problem of where to sell their “hot” items. The FBI thinks they know where the manuscripts are being hidden, and recruits a female author (Mercer) with staggering college debts to get close to the suspect.

What I enjoyed most about the novel was the close-knit community of writers on the island. They hung around together, commiserated when someone’s book didn’t sell well, and even tried to help Mercer when she had writer’s block. That would be a wonderful sort of place to live in real life.

What I disliked was the shallowness of the characters, which could have been much more developed. The shallowness  made it hard to stay enthused about the story. Mercer was a flat character, always whining about how she couldn’t think of any good story-lines. Bruce, the bookstore owner and suspect, was obsessed with sleeping with as many women as possible and making a lot of money. None of the original thieves were very likable either.

The book overall was mediocre. Mr. Grisham has obviously used up all his best ideas on earlier books such as: The Firm, The Rainmaker, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Summons, and The Last Juror. (He is, however, doing a great job in recent years writing youth fiction – his Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer series.) His best work always seems to involve lawyers, legal matters, and courtrooms. He would do well to return to his specialty.


The Scandal – by John Grisham (2016)

The Scandal - by John Grisham


Just when I thought John Grisham had wrapped up his “Theodore Boone” series, he published another great story about the kid lawyer. Growing up with two lawyers for parents, Theo isn’t just any kid. He’s only 13, but knows the law and court procedures better than most adults. His friends frequently ask his advise on matters of a legal nature.

Usually Theo doesn’t mind going to school, but this week is different. All week he and the other 8th graders from the three schools in town will be subjected to the state standardized tests. Everyone dreads the tests: the students who feel the pressure to get high scores, the teachers who will be evaluated on their teaching skill based on the results, and the parents who fear their children may be labeled as “slow” if they don’t do well. When the week is over and the results are in, something doesn’t seem quite right.

All the lovable characters from the first five books are included. There’s April, the friend whose dysfunctional family problems never end. There’s Mr. Mount, their favorite teacher, and Mrs. Gladwell the principal. There’s Theo’s parents, Woods and Marcella, who are constantly debating and discussing things. There’s Judge Yek, who is still in charge of Animal Court. And of course there’s Uncle Ike, as crazy as ever.

I did notice that Theo has remained the same age through all six volumes of the series. It would seem unlikely that so many stories could come out of one year, but hey, anything is possible with fiction. Don’t let the young age of Theo keep you from reading this book. It’s an enjoyable, quick read that tackles a subject that I have not seen in the fiction realm. Pick up a copy today at your local library!

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer – by John Grisham (2010)

Theodore Boone - Kid Lawyer

Theodore is the only child of a husband-wife lawyer team in the small town of Strattenburg. His father handles real estate deals, his mother divorce cases. He hangs out at his parents’ office after school, and is well-known at the local courthouse. Conversations at dinner often center around the law. At 13 years of age, Theo already has a better grasp of legal matters and defense strategies than most adults. His dream is to become a skilled lawyer like his parents.

Theo’s fascination with everything legal earns him the nickname “kid lawyer”. He answers classmates’ questions about the law. He also goes to the courthouse with his friend April to offer moral support. When the trial of accused killer Pete Duffy starts, the government class is allowed to see the opening arguments. Theo is immediately fascinated with the case, and gets personally involved.

Grisham’s first novel for pre-adults is a fun read. I enjoyed the unusual-ness of the Boone family. His close friendship with April, whose life is rather messed up, added to the story. Lastly, Theo’s crazy Uncle Ike was terrific. This story can be enjoyed by readers spanning middle-school, high school, and adult ages. A copy of this book can be found in the teen or young adult section of your local library.

The Testament – by John Grisham (1999)

The Testament


Troy Phelan, a cynical billionaire who has grown tired of living, jumps from a skyscraper after signing a simple will that leaves his massive fortune to an illegitimate daughter whom his family knows nothing about. Only a pittance is granted to his other children, and not a penny to his ex-wives. Rachel Lane has grown up not knowing her father, and is a missionary to a remote tribe of Indians in South America. The majority of the book covers the search for the elusive missionary, and her reaction to the inheritance.

Nate O’Reilly is the lawyer that is sent down to Brazil to locate Rachel. His life is a total mess – twice divorced, estranged from his children, in trouble with the IRS, and newly released from a detox program. The sub-story line about Nate’s life is just as intriguing as the main plot of finding Rachel. The stories intertwine perfectly as Nate and Rachel finally meet.

The book switches back and forth from the United States, where the Phelan children are legally contesting the will, to South America, where Nate is traveling through the Pantanal area looking for Rachel. He encounters difficulties of all varieties, making it a hellish trip.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Testament”, both in book form and as an audiobook. Frank Muller is the narrator, and performs to perfection. His reading is animated, as if he really is the character he is reading. Mr. Muller was the narrator for a number of popular novels, but was injured in a serious motorcycle accident in 2001, from which he never fully recovered. He passed away in 2008, leaving “The Testament” as some of his finest work. Whether you read it in printed or audio version, you’re sure to find this one of John Grisham’s best novels.

Gray Mountain – by John Grisham (2014)

Gray Mountain


The latest Grisham novel begins in Manhattan, where Samantha Kofer is a lawyer in a mega firm, working 90 hours a week. Then the recession of 2008 hits, and the job is gone. She finds pro bono work in the small Appalachian town of Brady. Instead of just doing paperwork in an office, she is now meeting the actual clients – ordinary people who find themselves in desperate situations and need her legal expertise.

I enjoyed reading a Grisham novel with a lead female character, which Mr. Grisham has only done one other time that I can think of (The Pelican Brief). Samantha is someone that everyone affected by the housing crash of 2008 can identify with. You share her sense of dread as she watches things fall apart, her despair as she loses her job, her anxiety as she job-hunts, her resignation to a less glamorous lifestyle, and her adjustment to a new way of life.

Although this is not Mr. Grisham’s best novel (The Testament, Runaway Jury, and Sycamore Row are my favorites), it is certainly a book you will enjoy from cover to cover.

Sycamore Row – by John Grisham (2013)

Sycamore Row

Anyone reading “Sycamore Row” will be struck by its connection to earlier novels. Attorney Jake Brigance and Sheriff Ozzie Walls are brought back from the very first Grisham novel – “A Time To Kill”. Judge Atlee is brought in from “The Summons”. Lawyers Harry Rex Vonner and Lucien Wilbanks from “The Last Juror” assist Jake in preparing his case. And the former owner of the Ford County Times, Willie Traynor, has a small part in the story.

Clanton is a town that struggled with racial issues in “A Time To Kill”, and years later, it is still an issue. The story centers around the suicide of Seth Hubbard, who had advanced lung cancer. The day before he hung himself, Seth invalidated his traditional will with a new, handwritten will leaving almost his entire fortune to his black housekeeper, Lettie. Needless to say, this did not sit well with Seth’s children and grandchildren, who took the matter to court. Much of the book is preparation for the trial, but the story easily kept my attention from beginning to end.

Runaway Jury – by John Grisham (1996)

The Runaway Jury

How many ways can an individual on a jury manipulate his fellow jurors? Let us count the ways! Nicholas Easter has worked for years to get on this jury and has creative ways to get results. You will laugh and be amazed at the antics young Nicholas uses to get the verdict he’s been dreaming of.

But he’s not the only trying to get his way. A jury analyst named Fitch has been working behind the scenes with the lawyers for the defense, spending millions to get the verdict he wants.

Between Nicholas and Fitch stand the rest of the jurors. The author has created many interesting characters among them, with great discussions amongst themselves and in the jury room. Of all John Grisham’s novels, this is one of my favorites.

The audio version of this book is also great. Michael Beck is the narrator, and does a fine job. The novel was made into a movie, but so much of the story was changed that I cannot recommend it. Stick to the book or audiobook.