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The Reckoning


The Reckoning

A popular question asked of readers these days goes something like this: If you are having a dinner party for any writer living or dead, who do you invite? The answers are always interesting, and the list of invitees is lengthy and varied. Should I ever be asked that question, John Grisham would be on my short list.

I think Grisham would agree that he isn’t Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain or even Faulkner. But he has written and sold many books, and each novel offers something new and different, following no specific formula or pattern. He often touches on contemporary legal events that include issues such as the death penalty, racism in the law, money, justice and, most recently, for-profit law schools. Over the years, I have written countless reviews for Bookreporter,and I await each of his works with the anticipation of baseball’s Opening Day or the first Friday night of high school football. THE RECKONING is everything that Grisham fans have come to expect --- and it might even be a little bit more.

"Grisham’s novels, regardless of subject, have a consistent ability to raise meaningful issues for his readers. THE RECKONING is no exception and is yet another other substantial addition to the Grisham library."

Grisham has chosen Ford County, Mississippi, as the venue for his latest offering. While clearly not as exotic as some of his other locations, it was the setting for A TIME TO KILL (his first novel), SYCAMORE ROW, and FORD COUNTY, a collection of short stories. Just as in his debut, Grisham begins THE RECKONING with a shooting. In the days after World War II, Pete Banning, Clanton, Mississippi’s hometown hero, walks into his Methodist church and shoots and kills Reverend Dexter Bell. No one knows why, and Pete refuses to give any reason. “I have nothing to say” is his only response to the police, his attorney and the court during his trial.

Traditional Grisham fans will feel more comfortable in the first third of the novel, which recounts the details of the crime, the time spent awaiting trial, and the actual trial and sentencing. There is little doubt as to Pete’s guilt, and his attorney, John Wilbanks --- a name recognizable to readers of A TIME TO KILL --- finds himself stymied by his client’s intransigence. When questioned in court about ignoring Wilbanks’ legal advice, Pete’s reply is terse and clear: “I’m not ignoring my lawyer. I’m just not agreeing with him.”

Grisham paints a vivid portrait of rural Mississippi in the post-World War II era before the civil rights revolution would change the lives of both black and white Mississippians. It is a sobering portrayal. No one could fathom why the town hero would walk into church and kill their beloved minister. And when the criminal proceedings have come to their conclusion, there are only questions without any apparent answers.

Opening a new vein in his writing, the middle third of the story is essentially a novel of World War II. Pete was a decorated veteran of the war, once actually presumed to have been killed during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. But those reports turned out to be false. He was captured, escaped and found himself attached to units of American and Filipino fighters engaged in guerilla warfare against the Japanese. Grisham’s account of Pete’s service is compelling and detailed, and readers will be totally riveted. Pete’s family continued their lives in Mississippi hoping he was alive but accepting the strong possibility that he was dead. In these sections, Grisham also drops a few additional clues suggesting why Pete would turn to murder upon his return home.

The last third of the book brings a conclusion to the mystery that began with three gunshots in the office of Reverend Bell. Pete’s wife, sister, son and daughter seek the answers to the causes of the event that forever changes their lives. As they discover the final secrets and the explanation for their father’s behavior, they learn a far more important lesson --- that none of it really matters.

Grisham’s novels, regardless of subject, have a consistent ability to raise meaningful issues for his readers. THE RECKONING is no exception and is yet another other substantial addition to the Grisham library.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on October 26, 2018

The Reckoning
by John Grisham