Since I first picked up The Firm a quarter of a century ago, I’ve enjoyed journeying through the pages of a legal thriller with John Grisham. When he’s on top of his game, the pages seem to turn themselves.
At times, his latest novel The Reckoning had the pages turning quickly. At others, it was rough sledding to turn the pages, wondering why Grisham was taking us on an extended flashback sequence to the second World War.
Local war hero Pete Banning is a pillar of the community, farming his land and providing not only for his family but also the people who work for him. But that’s not to say that Banning hasn’t dealt with his own share of setbacks — whether it’s a poor growing season, low crop prices, or having to commit his wife to the state mental facility, forbidding his kids from visiting her.
But nothing could prepare his children or the community for the morning when Pete Banning takes his gun, visits the office of his local Methodist minister and shoots the pastor dead in cold blood. Banning heads home and prepares himself for his arrest, offering no defense for his actions and refusing to offer any explanation as to why he killed the minister. Eventually, Banning is sentenced to the electric chair and executed.
As his family and the community try to understand what he did and why, Grisham takes reader on an extended flashback to the Bataan Death March and its impact on Pete before returning us to Pete’s family post-execution. And while it takes a long time to find out exactly why Pete shot the minister, all is revealed before the final page is turned. And it’s a secret that will haunt not only his family forever but will also give readers something to consider long after the final pages are turned.
Grisham is a master of the legal thriller and I’m always glad to see him trying to grow as a writer. However, I can’t help but feel The Reckoning is a bit of a misstep for him. I get that Grisham is fascinated by the horror of the Bataan Death March and certainly experiencing what Pete did adds some layers to the final third of the novel. But there are times when the entire flashback feels like something added on to expand a page count rather than as an actual benefit to the story. I don’t want a story of soldiers suffering under the brutality of war to be something that makes me eager to turn the next page, but I will admit this section took a lot of the early wind out of the sails of the narrative and story.
So, while I enjoyed Grisham’s latest novel, it’s not one that I’d put among his elite.