I recently read John Grisham’s latest, The Reckoning, a fascinating tale whose content and format are a departure from his norm. I wasn’t quite sure how to review the book and, when I went to read the comments of others, I realized I wasn’t alone.
Those who are fans of John Grisham are addicted to the formula that won him such popularity: a young, idealistic lawyer goes up against impossible odds, beats the bad guys and (often) gets the love interest in the end. Most of his career has been based on this winning strategy.
In his latest book, which uses an unexplained murder case as bookends for a harrowing tale about the Bataan Death March, Grisham gives readers a Gothic tale, murkier and more ambiguous than his normal fare. This has irked his readers, but I think that’s a bit unfair from the point of view of the writer.
Growing up I read The Hardy Boys, while girls my age may have read Nancy Drew. These were formulaic serials in which variation and maturation were strictly forbidden. In the modern era, authors like Clive Cussler and Sue Grafton have done much the same (though Grafton, who passed in 2017, explored a bit more growth with her protagonist Kinsey Millhone).
But what happens when writers want to grow and expand beyond what they have done before or even (Perish the thought!) write in a different genre? Well, they have to get a bit creative. Famed horror writer Stephen King created the pen name Richard Bachman, while more recently, best-selling Christian author Davis Bunn as adopted the persona of Thomas Locke to produce general market titles in a dizzying variety of genres.
These writers, and many others who have assumed noms de plume to express their creative range, have done so because they yearned to defy the expectations placed upon them.
As for my thoughts on The Reckoning, I will agree that while the book is not a good “John Grisham novel”, it is a good novel by John Grisham.
The fact I have to make this distinction saddens me.
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.