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Tom Chaney: No. R716: A Grisham Addiction

Of Writers and Their Books: A Grisham Addiction, a review of A review of John Grisham books. First printed 18 June 2006.
The next earlier Tom Chaney Of Writers and Their Books column, Tom Chaney: No. R715- Summertime reading

By Tom Chaney

Whenever I head out of The Bookstore, I try to leave with a book in hand. One can never tell when one is apt to encounter a slow traffic signal, a wreck on the highway, a boring acquaintance at meal, or a sleepless night.

Usually I go armed with what I'm reading at the moment. Sometimes I just pick a paperback off the shelf whether or not I have read it before. If nothing strikes my fancy, I head for the John Grisham department and pick any book.

I have read all eighteen of his published works at least twice -- from A Time to Kill in 1989 to his latest, The Broker.

Recently I selected The Client on the spur of the moment. I could visualize the plot. I knew "who done it," and where the body was buried. But the book did not disappoint. John Grisham appeals to my taste primarily for his style. He can tell a smashing good story with not a wasted word or a dead-end sidetrack. His characters are well developed, and his sense of place is accurate and interesting.

He is a master.

Grisham's career also serves an example of the man who starts his life in one direction and is not loath to change direction when necessity, interest, or notion strikes.

An athlete in high school, he began writing there. Through junior college and his two years finishing at Mississippi State College, he inclined toward accounting. A Time to Kill was begun while he was bored with accounting classes.

Following graduation at MSU Grisham entered law school at the University of Mississippi. That course he completed. For a time he practiced law and served in the state legislature. A Time to Kill was published during his second term.

That first novel deals with the rape of a ten-year-old girl; her father's slaying of the two rapists in the stairway of the courthouse; the father's subsequent trial and acquittal of murder. The novel occurs in the mostly white town of the fictional Clanton, Mississippi. The young girl and her father are black. The rapists are both white. Given those characters in that place with that plot, Grisham's hard driving style just had to be a winner.

Sales were good but not spectacular, however. Then came The Firm in 1991, and Grisham was catapulted immediately to the top of the national best-seller lists -- complete with movie rights. The following year A Time to Kill was issued in paperback by Dell.

The rest, as they say, is history -- continuing history -- through at least sixteen more including The Broker published just last year. It is the story of a notorious Washington power broker, Joel Blackman, who receives a surprise presidential pardon fourteen years away from the end of a 20-year sentence.

Blackman is smuggled out of the country on a military cargo plane, given a new identity, and tucked away in a small town in Italy. Blackman's serious enemies from his past are out to kill him as the CIA hoped. The question is not whether he will be killed, but rather who will kill him first.

One of the most interesting of Grisham's novels is The Testament. An attorney, Nate O'Riley, is charged with the job of settling the estate of a multi-millionaire who leaves his fortune to Rachel Porter, a daughter born decades earlier as a result of an extra-marital affair.

Rachel is found after a long search serving as a missionary in a most remote village in the Pantanal region of Brazil. At first she rejects the bequest.

Then Nate makes a second trip to the remote mission only to discover that Rachel has died of malaria leaving instructions that her estate be left in trust for the benefit of mission efforts; to protect the rights of the indigenous people of Brazil; and to feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, and shelter the children.

The skeptical Nate comes around to share Rachel's view of the world. In the course of telling this tale, Grisham has written the most effective novel familiar to me which deals with the idea of Christian conversion.

Does storyteller Grisham make a more positive contribution to society than lawyer Grisham? That question is not so difficult for me to answer, having no need of a lawyer at the moment.

But society needs its storytellers, its poets, its foresters. The fact that one can be both a lawyer and fill a useful vital role as teller of tales, crafter of poems, or a promoter of a greener world is one of the happy facts of modern life.

Meanwhile we wait with high expectation for the next John Grisham novel.

It is a shame that writers of which I am fond cannot write as fast as I can read.

Oh! We also have about of five feet of Grisham copies at The Bookstore.

[Note: Since this column first appeared, John Grisham has written: Playing for Pizza, The Appeal, The Associate, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, The Confession, Theodore Boone: The Abduction, and The Litigators.]

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at

Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749. Phone (270) 786-3084. email: Tom Chaney

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