The Reckoning by John Grisham

When I pick up a Grisham novel, I don’t expect fully one third of it to be a history lesson about the horrors the Japanese committed in Word War II. But halfway through this novel, when I was sufficiently intrigued as to why Peter Banning shot Reverend Dexter Bell in his church office and admitted to doing so without once saying why, I had to keep reading.

Unfortunately, I was suddenly thrust into the atrocities of war in Japan, and the Philippines, which went on relentlessly. It was a gruesome part of the book, portraying events so horrible it seemed unlikely that Lieutenant Peter Banning could have possibly lived through them.

But, of course he does, so that the last third of the book can reveal the reason he had to murder Dexter Bell, a reason I am unwilling to relate as it spoils the entire reason for reading this book. Suffice it to say the reason rests mightily on misunderstanding and regret.

At times I wondered if I was reading a book by Grisham at all. Other than the quite wonderfully written parts of the legal trial, the courtroom, the questioning, the motives of the lawyers, I felt the rest of the novel to be contrived. It didn’t ring true of what I know his writing to be, and for this, many people have praised The Reckoning. However, for me A Time to Kill will always be his best work.

The Confession

I wouldn’t be giving away any of the plot by telling you that the murderer confesses to his crime within the first twelve pages of this book. At which point I asked myself, “Why am I reading this? I already know who did it.” But, it was a sufficiently interesting enough ploy that I continued on…reading Grisham, as one does, for the story with legal ramifications.
And, there’s another thing that impresses me: his use of faith. I first noticed it in The Testament, and I noticed it again here. Whole passages which are dedicated to the issue of belief, and if I may be blunt, Christianity.
However, after witnessing the execution, Keith was a different person, or at least a different preacher. Suddenly, confronting social injustice was far more important than making his flock feel good each Sunday. He would begin hitting the issues, always from the Christian perspective and never from the politician’s, and if it rankled folks, too bad. He was tired of playing it safe.
“Would Jesus witness an execution without trying to stop it?” he asked. “Would Jesus approve of laws that allow us to kill those who have killed?” The answer to both was no, and for a full hour, in the longest sermon of his career, Keith explained why not.

The novel does not come across as a sermon. It is a very moving examination of the death penalty, of innocence and guilt, of police work gone wrong and laws which are worse. I found it very thought provoking, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.

And you? Do you have an opinion on the death penalty? Or, on those who are to uphold the law and instead only uphold their own agenda?

The Associate

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Title: The Associate
Author: John Grisham
Published: January 27, 2009
Number of pages: 384
Rating: 4 out of 5

Normally, I’m not a follower of popular pulp fiction authors. Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, Stephanie Meyers…I’ll dabble in their work for about two seconds to see what all the fuss is about, and then I’ll lay it down wondering about the appeal. I did thoroughly enjoy Grisham’s initial work; A Time to Kill was a truly an exciting book, in my opinion.

But, his last few, namely The Innocent Man and The Appeal, were atrocious. I couldn’t even finish The Innocent Man, The Appeal was anything but appealing, and I didn’t bother with Bleachers, or the pizza one at all.

So, I just picked up this latest book of his while meandering through the library two nights ago, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could not put it down. Is it still somewhat formulaic? Of course. But, it resonates of Grisham’s  skill so brilliantly demonstrated in his initial works.

A young Yale graduate is debating about which path his law degree should take him: to the prestigious, fancy law firms of Manhattan with a starting salary of $200,000, or to the people who really need him where he’ll be paid $25,000 a year? The choice is made for him when a thug with a false name blackmails him into accepting a job at Scully & Pershing so that he can spy on, and steal documents for, an enormous trial involving the Pentagon.

That is an interesting enough premise, but what also completely captured my attention was the life of a lawyer which Grisham portrays. How fascinating it is to look at the lives of these young men and women, who get up at five and are quitting early when they leave the office at 7:00 p.m. They live by documents and billing hours, impressions and status. I marvel at the superficiality of it all, and how unlike standing up for justice any of it really seems to be.

This was an interesting work. Not mesmerizing as in twenty books ago, but still far superior to the last five.