The Reckoning by John Grisham: Review

Book: The Reckoning

Author: John Grisham

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 500;

Price: Rs 399

In his career-launching novel, A Time to Kill, published 30 years ago John Grisham had based the setting in Clanton, Mississippi. In his new novel, The Reckoning, he returns to the mythical town and its racially divided community. The Reckoning is set in 1946, when World War II hero Pete Banning, one of the “good” white people of the day, patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist church returns home. Then one cool October morning he gets up earlier than usual, drives into town, walks into church and calmly shoots and kills his dear friend, the town’s popular Methodist minister Reverend Dexter Bell. After shooting the minister, he gives himself up to arrest but refuses to explain himself. As if the murder isn’t shocking enough, what is even more baffling is Pete’s only statement about it — to the sheriff, his lawyers, the judge, jury and even his family — “I have nothing to say.” He is unafraid of death and is willing to take his motive to the grave.

This book is unlike anything Grisham has written before and is different from nearly 40 other books that he has written since the incidents are based at a point of time before he was born and his forte is the legal thriller, not Southern Gothic. But, Grisham mostly grew up in north Mississippi and his meticulous research, on both aspects, shines through on every page.

Of the book’s three parts, part one (The Killing) has no shortage of thrills and is the most intriguing, then the second part (The Boneyard) in which we learn about Pete’s past in the military, and about what’s happening to him and his battalions slightly slows down the pace. This portion of the book is a slog through the marshy waters of World War II combat and history. Some readers may feel that it reads like a history textbook but are right in feeling that it represents a major slowdown after all the makings of a thrilling mystery in the earlier pages. Would it have helped if he had edited out some parts in the second part to help the book flow more easily?

Anyway, the pace builds up rapidly in the third part (The Betrayal) and leads to a wicked twist. While reviews for this novel are mixed and some consider his latest novel to be a breakthrough, he sure knows how to hold a reader’s attention. Also, full marks for plot and character development and his goal — to write a fast, engrossing thought-provoking read — is bang on target.

So why did Pete kill the pastor after all, and does Pete’s defense attorney manage to save him?

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