Skip to main content
Select Source:

John Grisham

John Grisham

Popular novelist John Grisham (born 1955) is the author of several thrillers that have been made into blockbuster films. His works, which center around the legal profession, include A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Client, and The Pelican Brief.

It is no understatement that John Grisham, author of the legal thrillers A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client, has achieved the status of what Entertainment Weekly called "a genuine pop-culture demigod." His have shared unprecedented weeks—and months—on best-seller lists, have numbered more than 60 million in print across the world, and have been translated into 31 languages. Dubbed "grab-it-at-the-airport" novels, they have also made their author a multimillionaire; Grisham's income for the 1992-93 fiscal year alone was $25 million. Along with author Scott Turow, also a former practicing attorney, Grisham has been credited with mastering a genre:the fast-paced, plot-driven legal thriller that thrusts an unwitting, sympathetic hero or heroine in the middle of a corrupt conspiracy and provides them with the means to extricate themselves. Despite his seemingly untouchable success, Grisham still wants each novel he writes to improve upon the last. "[Right now] I could crank out anything, and it would sell, " he told the same source. "But I want the next to be better than the first five. That keeps me awake at night."

Drawn to Court room Drama

Born in Arkansas in 1955, Grisham spent much of his childhood traveling with his family throughout the South, settling for short periods in places where his father, a construction worker, managed to find work. When Grisham was 12, he moved with his parents and four siblings to Southaven, Mississippi. "We didn't have a lot of money, " he remembered in People, "but we didn't know it. We were well fed and loved and scrubbed." Though not a stellar student in high school, he excelled in sports—baseball, in particular—and was captivated by the novels of John Steinbeck. Grisham later attended Mississippi State University, where he received his B.S. degree in accounting and decided on a career as a tax attorney. His first course on tax law at the University of Mississippi dampened his interest, however, and he switched to criminal-defense law instead, discovering that he was drawn to courtroom drama and had the ability to think well under pressure.

After graduating from law school and passing the bar exam in 1981, Grisham married Renee Jones, a childhood friend from Southaven, and the couple returned to their home town where Grisham became a litigator. In recalling his first murder trial, he told People, "I defended a guy who shot another guy in self-defense, but I had to explain why he shot him in the head six times at three-inch range. It was a pretty gruesome case, but I won." When he shifted his focus to more lucrative civil cases, his practice began to thrive, and he is credited with one of the largest damage settlements in De Soto County, which he won on behalf of a child who sustained extensive burns when a water heater exploded. In 1983 Grisham was elected to the Mississippi state legislature, where he served as a Democrat for seven years, hoping to increase spending for education. However, he resigned from his position before the end of his second term, because, as he told the same source, "I realized it was impossible to make changes."

Inspired by Real-Life Trial

The incident that inspired Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, occurred years before it was actually written, when he was still practicing law in Southaven in 1984. One day he went to the local courthouse to observe a trial and heard a ten-year-old girl testify against a man who had raped her, leaving her for dead. "I never felt such emotion and human drama in my life, " Grisham remembered in People. "I became obsessed wondering what it would be like if the girl's father killed that rapist and was put on trial. I had to write it down." Despite the 70 hours a week he was putting in at his own firm, he was able to complete A Time to Kill by waking up at 5:00 each morning to write, a schedule that he adhered to for three years. Then, in 1987, after the manuscript had been rejected by several publishers, New York agent Jay Garon offered to represent Grisham. Garon made a deal with Wynwood Press for $15, 000, and two years later, 5, 000 copies of A Time to Kill were published, one thousand of which Grisham bought himself. Of all his novels, it's the only one that he will not sell to Hollywood for a movie version, because, as he remarked in Entertainment Weekly, "it would be very, very easy to botch if it's not done with a great deal of delicateness and feeling. It's very dear and very special to me."

The Firm was also rejected by numerous publishers and might have suffered a similar fate as A Time to Kill if a bootleg copy of the manuscript hadn't started a bidding war in Hollywood. Early in 1990 Renee Grisham called her husband out of church to inform him that Paramount had offered him $600, 000 for the movie rights to his book, and Grisham soon signed a contract with Doubleday, one of the publishers who had rejected A Time to Kill two years earlier. The Firm is the story of Harvard Law School graduate Mitchell McDeere, who signs on with a prestigious Memphis law firm offering him an irresistible package:an excellent salary and such perks as a new BMW car, a low-interest mortgage, and membership in a posh country club. Yet just as Mitchell and his wife, Abby, are settling into their new upscale lifestyle, two of the firm's lawyers die mysteriously, and FBI investigators start pressuring the young lawyer for inside information. When he learns that the Mafia has set up the firm to launder money, Mitch faces the decision of whether to cooperate with the FBI and risk his life, or be implicated with the other firm members and spend time in prison. For Grisham, completing The Firm signalled a turning point:he decided to close his law practice and write full time.

Best-Seller for 47 Weeks

People magazine called The Firm a "thriller of the first order, powered to pulse-racing perfection by the realism of its malevolent barristers, " and Library Journal noted that Grisham "set a daringly high standard, one that his readers will hope he can reach again and again." A New York Times best-seller for 47 weeks—and the longest-running paperback on Publishers Weekly best-seller list—The Firm was made into a the 1992 film directed by Sidney Pollack, starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Holly Hunter, among others.

Grisham's next effort to be adapted for the big screen 1993's The Pelican Brief, featuring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. Although Grisham usually disassociates himself from the movie versions of his novels, he was apparently pleased with this one, which he and wife Renee first watched with President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House. Not only was it rated PG-13, meaning that his children could see it, but it was, as he told Entertainment Weekly, "a wonderful adaptation of the novel. [Director] Alan Pakula's vision was very similar to mine."

In this story, Darby Shaw, a Tulane University law student, prepares a legal brief that becomes a crucial puzzle piece in an FBI investigation of a suspected conspiracy behind the murders of two Supreme Court justices. Like Mitch in The Firm, Darby spends much of her time narrowly escaping the evil forces around her, though here Grisham targets other bureaucratic agencies—the CIA and White House, in addition to the FBI—as demoralized and corrupt. This novel, however, did not fare as well with reviewers: Time claimed that it "is as close to its predecessor as you can get without running The Firm through the office copier"; Publishers Weekly complained that the "hairbreadth escapes … are too many and too frequent, and the menace wears thin, partly because the characters lack the humanity of those in Grisham's earlier novels." Nevertheless Grisham remained stoic about the criticism, telling Michelle Bearden of Publishers Weekly: "It's the American way. As a rookie, people were really pulling for me with The Firm, but the second time around, those same people were secretly wishing I would fail so they could rip me to shreds."

Ordinary People, Heroic Deeds

Grisham has gotten into the habit of beginning his next novel the morning after he has sent a completed manuscript to agent Garon in New York. In shaping a story he adheres to what he considers three basic principles:an opening that grips readers and makes them want to continue reading, a middle that sustains the narrative tension, and an ending that brings the action to an edge-of-your-seat climax. As in The Firm and The Pelican Brief, his protagonists are often ordinary people who find themselves caught in the middle of a conspiracy and must perform heroic feats to save their own and others' lives. "And always, there's something dark, shadowy and sinister lurking in the background, " the author told Bearden. While he seems to have hit on a surefire formula for his novels, Grisham credits Renee, who offers him particular advice on his women characters, for her role as an editor and a critic. His manuscripts must meet with her approval before publishers even see them. "She makes those [editors] in New York look like children, " he was quoted as saying in Publishers Weekly.

In reflecting on what appears to be a trend—popular books being written by attorneys-turned-writers—Grisham confided to Bearden that "most lawyers I know would rather be doing something else." Yet he admits, according to People, that much of the fiction churned out by these professionals is "dreadful, " and that to be a "master" of the genre—a category in which he places only himself and authors Scott Turow and Steve Martini—a writer must be able to convey the legal aspects of a story without overwhelming or alienating the reader. Publishers Weekly commended Grisham on this very point in its review of The Firm:"[The author] lucidly describes law procedures at the highest levels, smoothly meshing them with the criminal events of the narrative." Still Grisham acknowledges that in some respects, his writing process still needs fine-tuning. In particular, he wishes that he had dedicated more time to The Pelican Brief and The Client, which he wrote in three months and six months, respectively. He has also endeavored to address past criticism that his novels contain shallow characters by slowing down the narrative pace in his most recent books and adding more depth and dimension to the personalities he creates.

Developed Characters in The Client

The Client, which is not a true mystery because the crime, motive, and criminal are all revealed within the first chapter of the book, reflects Grisham's growing interest in character development. Mark Sway, a streetwise 11-year-old who has grown up too fast due to an absent father and little money, becomes the unwitting witness to a suicide; yet before he kills himself, lawyer Jerome Clifford tells Mark where the body of a U.S. senator has been buried and who the killer is. Once word spreads to the Mafia and FBI that Mark has this information, his life is in danger, and he retains the legal services of Reggie Love, a middle-aged female attorney whose life has been even more difficult than his own. Grisham not only put their relationship at the emotional center of The Client but also invented more complex and well-rounded minor characters than in past books, and his efforts did not go unnoticed among reviewers:Publishers Weekly commended his creation of "two singular protagonists sure to elicit readers' empathy, " and People found the character of Reggie Love to be "a truly memorable heroine … well worth a return visit."

With his novel The Chamber, Grisham put in more time—it took more than nine months to write—and wrote it out longhand, which he had not done since he'd penned his first effort, A Time to Kill. The Chamber features Sam Cayhall, an aging former Ku Klux Klan member who has been convicted of bombing the office of a Jewish civil rights lawyer and killing the man's two young sons. In trying to prevent Cayhall's execution after he has received the death penalty, a shrewd lawyer named Adam—who turns out to be Cayhall's grandson—not only faces bureaucratic agencies that seem as debased as the criminal himself but, finally, he confronts his own conscience. Time applauded Grisham for his struggle to show the complexities of capital punishment as an ethical issue:"[The Chamber] is a work produced by painful writhing over a terrible paradox; vengeance may be justified, but killing is a shameful, demeaning response to evil." Grisham was also pleased with the outcome of this novel and particularly proud of its characters. "It's much more about the people, " he told Entertainment Weekly. "It will appeal to different kinds of readers. I have no doubts about it."

Returned to the Courtroom

For Grisham, the 1980s meant hard work and, at times, going without. While A Time to Kill has since joined the ranks of his other novels in best-sellerdom, it was not very long ago that he couldn't give copies away for free. "We'd give them as Christmas gifts, " his friend and fellow state legislator Bobby Moak recalled in Entertainment Weekly. "A truckload got wet and mildewed, so we just took 'em to the dump. It was hell gettin' rid of those dadgum things."

That was a far cry from Grisham's success in the 1990s. He was paid a $3.75 million advance for the The Chamber, and his 1995 book, The Rainmaker, shot to the top of the bestseller lists. In The Rainmaker, a poor young lawyer fights a corrupt insurance company. Entertainment Weekly commented, "The Rainmaker seems very tapped into America's current skepticism about lawyers and the legal system."

Continuing his focus on the legal system and current topics, Grisham in 1996 released The Runaway Jury. The story centers around a trial in which a woman, Celeste Wood, is suing a cigarette company for the death of her husband, Jacob. There is much intrigue and inside dealings with the jury, especially the secretive juror Nicholas Easter. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times commented, "The story's suspense builds like that of a lengthening cigarette ash that refuses to drop off, " and praised the plot as "entertainingly unpredictable."

In addition to his writing career, in 1995 Grisham announced he was returning to the courtroom. He had not practiced law for seven years, but agreed to represent the estate of an employee of the Illinois Central Railroad who was killed on the job. He had accepted the case in 1991. USA Today reported that Grisham "came across as a nice guy:well-prepared, deferential, sincere-sounding and self-effacing."

Continuing to craft best-selling novels, Grisham saw the publication of The Partner in 1997. In this story, a lawyer steals $90 million from his firm and its wealthiest client, fakes his own death, and flees to Brazil. "For lawyers, the main dream of escape is to get out of the profession, " Grisham told the New York Times. "They dream about a big settlement, a home run, so that they can use the money to do something else." Grisham himself has taken the money and run, all the way to Hollywood, which routinely turns his novels into movies.

In the wake of his success, Grisham continues to rely on friends and family to help him stay grounded. He and Renee have used part of their windfall to build a Victorian-style home on 20 acres of land in Oxford, Mississippi, and he spends as much time as he can with his children— attending his daughter Shea's soccer matches and coaching his son Ty in Little League. Grisham, who never loses sight of the fact that his success may be transient, remains positive about those blessings in his life that cannot be measured by book sales. "Ten years from now I plan to be sitting here, looking out over my land, " he told People. "I hope I'll be writing books, but if not, I'll be on my pond fishing with my kids. I feel like the luckiest guy I know."

Further Reading

Entertainment Weekly, April 1, 1994; May 5, 1995.

Library Journal, January 1991.

New York Times, May 23, 1996, p. B5; March 31, 1997, p. C11.

People, April 8, 1991; March 16, 1992; March 15, 1993.

Publishers Weekly, January 11, 1991; January 20, 1992; February l, 1993; February 22, 1993.

Time, March 9, 1992; June 20, 1994. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"John Grisham." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"John Grisham." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-grisham

"John Grisham." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-grisham

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Grisham, John 1955–

Grisham, John 1955-

PERSONAL

Full name, John Ray Grisham, Jr.; born February 8, 1955, in Jonesboro, AR; son of John Ray Grisham (a construction worker); mother a homemaker; married Renee Jones, May 8, 1981; children: Ty, Shea. Education: Mississippi State University, B.S.; University of Mississippi, J.D., 1981. Religion: Baptist. Avocational Interests: Coaching Little League baseball.

Addresses:

Agent—David Gernert, Gernert Co., 136 East 57th St., 18th Floor, New York, NY 10022.

Career:

Novelist, attorney, and producer. Lawyer in private practice in Southaven, MS, 1981-90, 1996; publisher of the magazine Oxford American. Mississippi House of Representatives, Democratic representative, 1984-90; Innocence Project, member of board of directors. Rebuild the Coast Fund, affiliate.

Awards, Honors:

Scripter Award nomination (with Francis Ford Coppola), University of Southern California, 1998, for The Rainmaker; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination (with others), best motion picture screenplay, Mystery Writers of America, 2004, for Runaway Jury; lifetime achievement prize, Galaxy British Book Awards, 2007.

CREDITS

Film Work:

Coproducer, A Time to Kill, Warner Bros., 1996.

Producer, Mickey, Slugger Pictures, 2004.

Film Appearances:

Commissioner, Mickey, Slugger Pictures, 2004.

Television Producer; Pilots:

Executive producer, The Street Lawyer, ABC, 2003.

Television Appearances; Movies:

(Uncredited) Narrator, A Painted House (also known as John Grisham's "A Painted House"), CBS, 2003.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Mississippi Rising, 2005.

Forbes Celebrity 100: Who Made Bank?, 2006.

Television Appearances Episodic:

The Daily Show (also known as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Global Edition), Comedy Central, 2005.

WRITINGS

Novels:

A Time to Kill, Wynwood Press, 1989.

The Firm, Doubleday, 1991.

The Pelican Brief, Doubleday, 1992.

The Client, Doubleday, 1993.

The Chamber, Doubleday, 1994.

The Rainmaker, Doubleday, 1995.

The Runaway Jury, Doubleday, 1996.

The Partner, Doubleday, 1997.

The Street Lawyer, Doubleday, 1998.

The Testament, Doubleday, 1999.

The Brethren, Doubleday, 2000.

A Painted House, Doubleday, 2001.

Skipping Christmas, Doubleday, 2001.

The Summons, Doubleday, 2002.

The King of Torts, Doubleday, 2003.

The Bleachers, Doubleday, 2003.

The Last Juror, Doubleday, 2004.

The Broker, Doubleday, 2005.

Screenplays:

Mickey, Slugger Pictures, 2004.

Television Series:

The Client (also known as John Grisham's "The Client"), CBS, 1995-96.

Other:

John Grisham (fiction collection), Dell, 1993. The Innocent Man (nonfiction), Doubleday, 2006.

ADAPTATIONS

Most of Grisham's books have been adapted as screenplays, including The Firm, Paramount, 1993; The Pelican Brief, Warner Bros., 1993; The Client, Warner Bros., 1994; A Time to Kill, Warner Bros., 1996; The Chamber, Universal, 1996; The Rainmaker (also known as John Grisham's "The Rainmaker"), Paramount, 1997; The Gingerbread Man, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1998; and Runaway Jury, Twentieth Century-Fox, 2003; the film Christmas with the Kranks, released by Columbia in 2004, is based on Grisham's Novel Skipping Christmas. Also, the television movie A Painted House (also known as John Grisham's "A Painted House"), broadcast by CBS in 2003, was based on Grisham's novel of the same title; the television pilot The Street Lawyer, ABC, 2003, was based on characters created by Grisham.

OTHER SOURCES

Books:

American Decades 1990-1999, Gale, 2001.

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 47, Gale, 2003.

Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volume 133, Gale, 2005.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 84, Gale, 1995.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press, 2001.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press, 2000.

Periodicals:

Entertainment Weekly, February 11, 2000, pp. 36-40; February 13, 2004, pp; 41-43.

Film Comment, March, 1998, pp. 76-78, 80.

TV Guide, April 26, 2003, pp. 30-33.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Grisham, John 1955–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Grisham, John 1955–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/grisham-john-1955

"Grisham, John 1955–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/grisham-john-1955

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Grisham, John

GRISHAM, John

Nationality: American. Born: Jonesboro, Arkansas, 8 February 1955. Education: Mississippi State University, B.S. in accounting 1977; University of Mississippi, LL.D in 1981. Family: Married Renee Jones; three children. Career: Practiced law, Southaven, Mississippi, 1981-91; member Mississippi House of Representatives, 1984-90. Address: c/o Doubleday, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036-4039, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

A Time to Kill. New York, Wynwood Press, 1989; London, Century, 1993.

The Firm. New York, Doubleday, and London, Century, 1991.

The Pelican Brief. New York, Doubleday, and London, Century, 1992.

The Client. New York, Doubleday, and London, Century, 1993.

The Chamber. New York, Doubleday, and London, Century, 1994.

The Rainmaker. New York, Doubleday, and London, Century, 1995.

The Runaway Jury. New York, Doubleday, 1996.

The Partner. New York, Doubleday, 1997.

The Street Lawyer. New York, Doubleday, 1998.

The Testament. New York, Doubleday, 1999.

The Brethren. New York, Doubleday, 2000.

*

Film Adaptations:

The Firm, 1993; The Pelican Brief, 1993; The Client, 1994; The Chamber, 1996; The Rainmaker, 1998.

Critical Studies:

John Grisham: A Critical Companion by Mary Beth Pringle. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1997.

* * *

John Grisham hit the best-seller lists as a kind of publishing phenomenon, a blockbuster novelist whose books are instant hits and are snapped up by Hollywood even before they hit the bookstores. Grisham writes a type of novel that might best be described as a "legal procedural." His books deal with the law and those who practice it. If, as surveys indicate, Americans are antilawyer, they are certainly not antilaw novel. Grisham and others have made the legal novel vastly popular with the American reading public.

There are probably two main reasons for Grisham's popularity among contemporary readers. First, Grisham invites his reader into the often confusing and arcane world of legal practice. He cuts through the "heretofores" and "whereases" to simplify law for the reader. He shows how the law works, how lawyers work, why the law sometimes doesn't work, and what's going on when we can't see legal workings. Furthermore, he does this with a page-turning style that is hard to resist for those curious about the legal system in this country.

Second, Grisham suggests to his readers that the law can be made to work for all of us, even neophytes, even in the face of huge companies with high-priced representation, even against overwhelming odds, even against government oppression. Grisham's protagonists are always underdogs. They may be law students (The Pelican Brief ), brand new lawyers (The Firm, The Chamber, The Rainmaker ), or practicing lawyers fighting against great odds (A Time to Kill, The Client ). Whatever the situation, the message is powerful and seductive. Americans hold strongly and dearly the belief that we are all equal under the law and that all of us have a chance to win if our cause is right, never mind the reality of expensive attorneys.

One of Grisham's gifts is that he is able to make sympathetic to the reader even those characters who might ordinarily have no claim to those sympathies. In The Chamber, for instance, Grisham presents his readers with a character who deserves the death penalty, if indeed anyone ever has. He is a multiple murderer, an unrepentant racista virtual compendium of all that could possibly be wrong with a character facing capital punishment. Still, it would be the hard-hearted reader who could reach the end of this book and not feel sorry for the death of an old man who glories in a last gift of Eskimo Pies.

Grisham's first book, A Time to Kill, is probably his weakest, although that could be said of most first novels. He introduces plot lines and characters that he fails to develop sufficiently or to tie up neatly at the end. By his second book, The Firm, he has overcome those problems quite thoroughly. Grisham likes introducing involved plot lines and twists and weaving them into a fast-paced whole. One almost suspects that he considers complexity a personal challenge, taking it on in the way one might consider constructing a puzzle.

Although his novels are generally well edited and fairly seamless, The Chamber showed signs of a syndrome unfortunately common to blockbuster writers, one that sometimes appears after their first few novels. When writers become so valuable to their publishers that publishers are afraid to edit them, sloppiness in the minor aspects of editing may begin to pop out, and that is the case with The Chamber. Yet no such problems surface in The Rainmaker, the novel following The Chamber; perhaps the writer had been made aware of the editing lapses.

The Runaway Jury, with its plot concerning a tobacco-liability lawsuit, could not have been more well-timed when it appeared in 1996, as states sued tobacco companies for billions of dollars. The Testament focuses on a much more localized concern, and as with many another Grisham novel, the premisea wealthy man sidesteps his greedy children and wives in his will to reward a stranger of good characteris hardly original; but, as is also characteristic of Grisham, his execution of the story is engaging. The book is also the most overtly spiritual work by Grisham, a devout Christian. By contrast, The Brethren offers the first Grisham anti-heroes, with hardly a major character that an audience is likely to cheer for. Absent are the typical underdog heroes, and in their place is a trio of crooked judges serving prison time, a ruthless presidential candidate, and a conniving CIA chief.

Overall, Grisham's work is well constructed, tightly plotted, fast paced, and, if undemanding, certainly exciting for the reader looking for a hard-to-put-down novel.

June Harris

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Grisham, John." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Grisham, John." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/grisham-john

"Grisham, John." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/grisham-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Grisham, John

John Grisham, 1955–, American novelist and lawyer, b. Jonesboro, Ark., grad. Mississippi State Univ. (B.S., 1977), Univ. of Mississippi School of Law (J.D., 1981). He practiced law for nearly a decade and served (1984–90) in the Mississippi house of representatives. His first novel, A Time to Kill (1988, film 1996), was based on a local rape case. His next, The Firm (1991, film 1993), established Grisham as the preeminent writer of legal thrillers. Since 1991, when he stopped practicing law, he has written almost a novel a year, most based on some aspect of the law and nearly all best sellers. Many have been optioned by Hollywood, including The Pelican Brief (1992, film 1993), The Client (1993, film 1994), and Runaway Jury (1996, film 2003). He also has written several novels on nonlegal subjects, e.g., A Painted House (2001) and Bleachers (2003); legal nonfiction, The Innocent Man (2006); and a volume of short stories, Ford County (2009).

See M. B. Pringle, John Grisham: A Critical Companion (upd. ed. 2007).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Grisham, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Grisham, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/grisham-john

"Grisham, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/grisham-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Grisham, John

GRISHAM, John

GRISHAM, John. American, b. 1955. Genres: Mystery/Crime/Suspense. Career: Lawyer, 1981-91; State of Mississippi, member of house, 1984-90; writer. Publications: A Time to Kill, 1989; The Firm, 1991; The Pelican Brief, 1992; The Client, 1993; The Chamber, 1994; The Rainmaker, 1995; The Runaway Jury, 1996; The Partner, 1997; The Street Lawyer, 1998; The Testament, 1999; The Brethren, 2000; A Painted House, 2001; Skipping Christmas, 2001; The Summons, 2002; The King of Torts, 2003; Bleachers, 2003; The Last Juror, 2004. Address: c/o Random House, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036, U.S.A.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Grisham, John." Writers Directory 2005. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Grisham, John." Writers Directory 2005. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/grisham-john

"Grisham, John." Writers Directory 2005. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/grisham-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Grisham, John 1955–

Grisham, John 1955–

(Al Hayes)

PERSONAL: Born February 8, 1955, in Jonesboro, AR; son of a construction worker and a homemaker; married Renee Jones; children: Ty, Shea (daughter). Education: Mississippi State University, B.S., University of Mississippi, J.D. Religion: Baptist.

ADDRESSES: Home—Charlottesville, VA. Agent—c/o Doubleday Publicity, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: Writer and lawyer. Admitted to the Bar of the State of Mississippi, 1981; lawyer in private practice in Southaven, MS, 1981–90. Served in Mississippi House of Representatives, 1984–90.

AWARDS, HONORS: Inducted into Academy of Achievement, 1993.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

A Time to Kill, Wynwood Press (New York, NY), 1989.

The Firm, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.

The Pelican Brief, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.

The Client, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.

John Grisham (collection), Dell (New York, NY), 1993.

The Chamber, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.

The Rainmaker, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.

The Runaway Jury, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

The Partner, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.

The Street Lawyer, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

The Testament, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.

The Brethren, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.

A Painted House, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.

Skipping Christmas, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.

The Summons, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.

The King of Torts, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.

The Bleachers, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.

The Last Juror, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.

The Broker, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.

Also author of screenplays The Gingerbread Man (under pseudonym Al Hayes), and Mickey.

ADAPTATIONS: The Firm was adapted as a film, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, and Jeanne Tripplehorn, Paramount, 1993; The Pelican Brief was adapted as a film, directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, 1994; The Client was adapted as a film, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones, 1994; The Chamber was adapted as a film, directed by James Foley and starring Chris O'Donnell and Gene Hackman, 1996; A Time to Kill was adapted as a film, directed by Schumacher and starring Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock, 1996; The Rainmaker was adapted as a film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Matt Damon and Claire Danes, 1997; Runaway Jury was adapted as a film, directed by Gary Fleder and starring Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, 2003; Skipping Christmas was adapted as a film, starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, Columbia, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: The author of seventeen back-to-back bestsellers, many of which have been turned into blockbuster movies, John Grisham can count his revenues and copies sold of his legal thrillers in the hundreds of millions. With his works translated into more than thirty languages, Grisham was one of the major success stories in publishing during the 1990s. As Malcolm Jones noted in Newsweek, Grisham was "the best-selling author" of the decade with his formula of "David and Goliath go to court," and the success of his books has helped to make legal thrillers one of the most popular genres among U.S. readers. Jones further commented, "As part of an elite handful of megaselling authors that includes Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, Grisham has literally taken bookselling to places it's never been before—not just to airport kiosks but to price clubs and … online bookselling." Grisham's bestsellerdom even extends to countries with a legal system completely different than that in the United States. "He sells to everyone," Jones continued, "from teens to senior citizens, from lawyers in Biloxi to housewives in Hong Kong."

When Grisham began writing his first novel, he never dreamed he would become one of America's best-selling novelists. Yet the appeal of his legal thrillers such as The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Rainmaker, and The Summons, among others, has been so great that initial hardcover print runs number in the hundreds of thousands and the reading public regularly buys millions of copies. The one-time lawyer now enjoys a celebrity status that few writers will ever know. "We think of ourselves as regular people, I swear we do," Grisham was quoted as saying of himself and his family by Keli Pryor in Entertainment Weekly. "But then someone will drive 200 miles and show up on my front porch with books for me to sign. Or an old friend will stop by and want to drink coffee for an hour. It drives me crazy." As he told Jones, "I'm a famous writer in a country where nobody reads."

As a youth, Grisham had no dreams of becoming a writer, although he did like to read. Born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1955, he was the son of a construction-worker father and a homemaker mother. His father traveled extensively in his job, and the Grisham family moved many times. Each time the family took up residence in a new town, Grisham would immediately go to the public library to get a library card. "I was never a bookworm," he maintained in an interview for Bookreporter.com. "I remember reading Dr. Seuss, the 'Hardy Boys,' Emil and the Detectives, Chip Hilton, and lots of Mark Twain and Dickens." Another constant for Grisham was his love of baseball, something he has retained in adulthood. One way he and his brothers gauged the quality of each new hometown was by inspecting its little-league ballpark.

In 1967 the family moved to a permanent home in Southaven, Mississippi, where Grisham enjoyed greater success in high school athletics than he did in English composition, a subject in which he earned a D grade. After graduation, he enrolled at Northwest Junior College in Senatobia, Mississippi, where he remained for a year, playing baseball for the school team. Transferring to Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, he continued with his baseball career until he realized that he was not going to make it to the big leagues. Transferring to Mississippi State University, Grisham studied accounting with the ambition of eventually becoming a tax attorney. By the time he earned his law degree from the University of Mississippi, however, his interest had shifted to criminal law, and he returned to Southaven to establish a practice in that field.

Although his law practice was successful, Grisham grew restless in his new career. He switched to the more lucrative field of civil law and won many cases, but the sense of personal dissatisfaction remained. Hoping to somehow make a difference in the world, he entered politics with the aim of reforming his state's educational system. Running as a Democrat, he won a post in the state legislature; four years later, he was reelected. After a total of seven years in public office, Grisham became convinced that he would never be able to cut through the red tape of government bureaucracy in his effort to improve Mississippi's educational system, and he resigned his post in 1990.

While working in the legislature, Grisham continued to run his law office. His first book, A Time to Kill, was inspired by a scene he saw one day in court when a preadolescent girl testified against her rapist. "I felt everything in those moments," Grisham recalled to Pryor. "Revulsion, total love for that child, hate for that defendant. Everyone in that courtroom wanted a gun to shoot him." Unable to get the story out of his mind, be began to wonder what would happen if the girl's father had killed his daughter's assailant. Grisham disclosed to an interviewer with People, "I became obsessed wondering what it would be like if the girl's father killed that rapist and was put on trial. I had to write it down." Soon he had the core of a book dealing with a black father who shoots the white man who raped his daughter. "I never felt such emotion and human drama in my life," he said in the interview.

Writing his first novel, let alone publishing it, was no easy task for Grisham. "Because I have this problem of starting projects and not completing them, my goal for this book was simply to finish it," he revealed to Publishers Weekly interviewer Michelle Bearden. "Then I started thinking that it would be nice to have a novel sitting on my desk, something I could point to and say, 'Yeah, I wrote that.' But it didn't consume me. I had way too much going on to make it a top priority. If it happened, it happened." Working sixty- to seventy-hour weeks between his law practice and political duties, Grisham rose at five in the morning to write an hour a day on his first novel, thinking of the activity as a hobby rather than a serious effort at publication.

Finishing the manuscript in 1987, Grisham next had to look for an agent. He was turned down by several before finally receiving a positive response from Jay Garon. Agent and author encountered a similarly difficult time trying to find a publisher; 5,000 copies of the book were finally published by Wynwood Press, and Grisham received a check for 15,000 dollars. He purchased 1,000 copies of the book himself, peddling them at garden-club meetings and libraries and giving many of them away to family and friends. Ironically, A Time to Kill is now rated by some commentators as the finest of Gr-isham's novels. Furthermore, according to Pryor, "Those first editions are now worth 3,900 dollars each," and after being republished, "the novel Grisham … couldn't give away has 8.6 million copies in print and has spent eighty weeks on the best-seller lists."

Despite the limited initial success of A Time to Kill, Grisham was not discouraged from trying his hand at another novel. The second time around, he decided to follow guidelines set forth in a Writer's Digest article for plotting a suspense novel. The result was The Firm, the story of a corrupt Memphis-based law firm established by organized crime for purposes of shielding and falsifying crime-family earnings. Recruited to the practice is Mitchell McDeere, a promising Harvard law school graduate who is overwhelmed by the company's apparent extravagance. When his criminal bosses discover that McDeere has been indulging his curiosity, he becomes an instant target of both the firm and the authorities monitoring the firm's activities. When he runs afoul of the ostensible good guys, McDeere finds himself in seemingly endless danger.

Grisham was not as motivated when writing The Firm as he had been when composing A Time to Kill, but with his wife's encouragement he finished the book. Before he even began trying to sell the manuscript, he learned that someone had acquired a bootlegged copy of it and was willing to give him 600,000 dollars to turn it into a movie script. Within two weeks, Double-day, one of the many publishers that had previously rejected A Time to Kill, offered Grisham a contract.

Upon The Firm's publication, several reviewers argued that Grisham had not attained a high art form, although it was generally conceded that he had put together a compelling thriller. Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Charles Champlin wrote that the "character penetration is not deep, but the accelerating tempo of paranoia-driven events is wonderful." Chicago Tribune Books reviewer Bill Brashler offered similar praise, proclaiming that The Firm reads "like a whirlwind." The novel was listed on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly a year and sold approximately ten times as many copies as its predecessor. By the time the film version was released, there were more than seven million copies of The Firm in print. This amazing success gave Grisham the means he needed to build his dream house, quit his law practice, and devote himself entirely to writing.

In a mere one hundred days, Grisham wrote another legal thriller, The Pelican Brief, which introduces readers to brilliant, beautiful female law student Darby Shaw. When two U.S. Supreme Court justices are murdered, Shaw postulates a theory as to why the crimes were committed. Just telling people about her idea makes her gravely vulnerable to the corrupt law firm responsible for the killings.

In reviewing the book, some critics complained that Grisham follows the premise of The Firm too closely, with John Skow writing in his review for Time that The Pelican Brief "is as close to its predecessor as you can get without running The Firm through the office copier." However, Grisham also received praise for creating another exciting story. Frank J. Prial, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed that, despite some flaws in The Pelican Brief, Grisham "has an ear for dialogue and is a skillful craftsman." The book enjoyed success comparable to The Firm, selling millions of copies.

In just six months, Grisham put together yet another bestseller titled The Client. This legal thriller focuses on a young boy who, after learning a sinister secret, turns to a motherly lawyer for protection from both the mob and the FBI. Like The Firm and The Pelican Brief, the book drew lukewarm reviews but became a bestseller and a major motion picture. During the spring of 1993, after The Client came out and A Time to Kill was republished, Grisham was in the rare and enviable position of having a book at the top of the hardcover bestseller list and books in the first, second, and third spots on the paperback bestseller list as well.

Grisham acknowledged to an Entertainment Weekly interviewer that his second, third, and fourth books are formula-driven. He described his recipe for a bestseller in the following way: "You throw an innocent person in there and get 'em caught up in a conspiracy and you get 'em out." He also admitted to rushing through the writing of The Pelican Brief and The Client, resulting in "some damage" to the books' quality. Yet he also complained that the critical community treats popular writers harshly. "I've sold too many books to get good reviews anymore," he told Pryor. "There's a lot of jealousy, because [reviewers] think they can write a good novel or a best-seller and get frustrated when they can't. As a group, I've learned to despise them."

With his fifth novel, Grisham departs from his proven formula and proceeds at a more leisurely pace. Not only did he take a full nine months to write The Chamber, a book in which the "good guys" and "bad guys" are not as clearly defined as in his previous efforts, but the book itself, at almost 500 pages, takes time to unravel its story line. The novel is a detailed study of a family's history, an examination of the relationship between lawyer and client, and a description of life on death row. The Chamber is "a curiously rich milieu for a Grisham novel," according to Entertainment Weekly critic Mark Harris, "and it allows the author to do some of his best writing since [A Time to Kill.]" Skow credited Grisham with producing a thought-provoking treatise on the death penalty, and noted in Time that The Chamber "has the pace and characters of a thriller, but little else to suggest that it was written by the glib and cheeky author of Grisham's legal entertainments…. Grisham may not change opinions with this sane, civil book, and he may not even be trying to. What he does ask, very plainly, is an important question: Is this what you want?" A reviewer for the London Sunday Times stated that "Grisham may do without poetry, wit and style, and offer only the simplest characterisation. The young liberal lawyer may be colourless and the spooky old prisoner one-dimensional; but there is no doubt that this ex-lawyer knows how to tell a story." While The Chamber was less obviously commercial than his previous three books, Grisham had little trouble selling the movie rights for a record fee.

The Rainmaker features a young lawyer, Rudy Baylor, recently graduated from law school, who finds himself desperate for a job when the small firm he had planned to work for is bought out by a large, prestigious Memphis firm that has no use for him. After going to work for Bruiser Stone, a shady lawyer with underworld clients, Baylor finds himself averting an FBI raid on Stone's firm while also trying to pursue a lawsuit brought by a terminally ill leukemia patient against an insurance company that has refused to pay for her treatment. While some reviewers again directed harsh criti-cism at Grisham for his "pedestrian prose" and "ridiculously implausible" plot—in the words of New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani—others praised the novel. Garry Abrams, for instance, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, commended the author's "complex plotting," noting: "In his loping, plain prose, Grisham handles all his themes with admirable dexterity and clarity."

Grisham also garnered warm critical comments for The Runaway Jury, a novel that details the ability of a few individuals to manipulate a jury in the direction that will bring them the greatest financial reward. Writing in the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt remarked that Grisham's "prose continues to be clunky, the dialogue merely adequate and the characters as unsubtle as pushpins." But the critic also felt that "the plot's eventual outcome is far more entertainingly unpredictable" than Grisham's previous novels, and he declared that Grisham "for once … is telling a story of genuine significance."

Grisham continued his streak of phenomenally popular novels with The Partner, about a law-firm partner who fakes his own death and absconds with ninety million dollars. Discussing his less-than-virtuous protagonist, Grisham told Mel Gussow of the New York Times, "I wanted to show that with money you can really manipulate the system. You can buy your way out of trouble." Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer Robert Drake called The Partner "a fine book, wholly satisfying, and a superb example of a masterful storyteller's prowess captured at its peak."

With Street Lawyer Grisham once again presents a young lawyer on the fast track who has a life-altering experience. The fast pace and moral stance of the novel attracted a chorus of praise. Reviewing the book in Entertainment Weekly, Tom De Haven noted that "success hasn't spoiled John Grisham. Instead of churning out rote legal thrillers, his court reporting keeps getting better." De Haven further noted that Grisham, while lacking the "literary genius" of John Steinbeck, "does share with him the conscience of a social critic and the soul of a preacher." People reviewer Cynthia Sanz similarly reported that Grisham "has forsaken some of his usual suspense and fireworks in favor of an unabashedly heart-tugging portrait of homelessness." However, Sanz further noted that the author does not sacrifice his "zippy pacing" to do so. Praise not only appeared in the popular press: "In a powerful story," wrote Jacalyn N. Kolk in the Florida Bar Journal, "John Grisham tells it like it is on both sides of the street." Kolk felt that this "entertaining" novel "may stir some of us [lawyers] to pay more attention to the world around us."

The Testament provides another departure from the usual Grisham formula. As a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted, "Grisham confounds expectations by sweeping readers into adventure in the Brazilian wetlands and, more urgently, into a man's search for spiritual renewal." Grisham has firsthand experience of Brazil, having traveled there often and once even helping to build houses there for the poor. His novel eschews the legal wrangling and courtroom suspense his readers have come to expect. Instead, in this tale he proves he "can spin an adventure yarn every bit as well as he can craft a legal thriller," according to Newsweek reviewer Jones. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that while the storytelling is not "subtle," Grisham's use of the suspense novel format to "explore questions of being and faith puts him squarely in the footsteps of Dickens and Graham Greene." The same reviewer concluded that The Testament is "sincere, exciting, and tinged with wonder." Speaking with Jones, Grisham remarked, "The point I was trying to make … was that if you spend your life pursuing money and power, you're going to have a pretty sad life."

Lawyers and judges of a much different ilk populate Grisham's eleventh novel, The Brethren. Noting that Grisham veers away from his usual David-and-Goliath scenario, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly still felt that "all will be captivated by this clever thriller that presents as crisp a cast as he's yet devised, and as grippingly sardonic yet bitingly moral a scenario as he's ever imagined." Writing in Entertainment Weekly, De Haven also commented on the novel's cast of ne'er do wells, noting that "if you can get past [Grisham's] creepy misanthropy, he's written a terrifically entertaining story."

With A Painted House, initially serialized in The Oxford American—a small literary magazine Grisham co-owns—the author does the unpredictable: he presents readers with a book with no lawyers. "It's a highly fictionalized childhood memoir of a month in the life of a seven-year-old kid, who is basically me," Grisham explained to Entertainment Weekly writer Benjamin Svetkey. Book contributor Liz Seymour called the novel "genre-busting," and "the unsentimental story of a single harvest season in the Arkansas Delta as seen through the eyes of the seven-year-old son and grandson of cotton farmers." Though the tale may be without lawyers, it is not without conflict and incident, including trouble between the migrant workers young Luke Chandler's family brings in for the cotton harvest and a tornado that threatens to destroy the Chandler livelihood. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that Grisham's "writing has evolved with nearly every book," and though the "mechanics" might still be visible in A Painted House, there are "characters that no reader will forget, prose as clean and strong as any Grisham has yet laid down and a drop-dead evocation of a time and place that mark this novel as a classic slice of Americana."

Some critics differed with these opinions, however. Writing in Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin called into question the merits of Grisham's coming-of-age novel: "The measured, descriptive prose is readable … and there are some truly tender moments, but this is surface without substance, simply an inadequate effort in a genre that has exploded with quality over the last several years." As usual with a Grisham novel, however, there was a divergence among critical voices. What Zvirin found "inadequate," Entertainment Weekly contributor Bruce Fretts described as a "gem of an autobiographical novel." Fretts further commented, "Never let it be said this man doesn't know how to spin a good yarn." In Time, Jess Cagle criticized the book's slow pace but concluded that Grisham's "compassion for his characters is infectious, and the book is finally rewarding—a Sunday sermon from a Friday-night storyteller."

With The Summons, Grisham returns to his lawyer roots, to thrillers, and also to Ford County, Mississippi, which was the setting for A Time to Kill. Reviewing the book in Entertainment Weekly, Svetkey found The Summons "not all that tough to put down," and with "few shocking surprises." Nonetheless, shortly after publication, The Summons topped the list of hardcover best sellers, selling well over 100,000 copies in its first week of publication alone.

Grisham's next three books—The King of Torts, The Bleachers, and The Last Juror—all attained best-seller status despite mixed reviews. Of the first, a reviewer for the Yale Law Journal commented that, while Grisham's approach is "badly hobbled … by a cliche-driven plot … [and] failure to support his argument with substantive, realistic criticisms," the author's talent for powerful storytelling and a simple thesis "may yet move millions of casual readers to support serious reform of American tort law." Jennifer Reese of Entertainment Weekly was highly critical of The Bleachers, describing the story as "a sloppy gridiron mess, a thin and flimsy meditation on football and the dubious role it can play in the lives of young men." "Never a terrific stylist," Reese continued, "Grisham doesn't show any flair for character here." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Bleachers a "slight but likable novel," stating: "Many readers will come away having enjoyed the time spent, but wishing there had been a more sympathetic lead character, more originality, more pages, more story and more depth."

The Last Juror became Grisham's seventeenth book and seventeenth best-seller. Despite its popularity among readers, Rosemary Herbert of the Boston Herald warned: "If you expect to be on the edge of your seat while reading John Grisham's latest, think again. The experience is bound to be more like sitting in a jury box. Occasionally, the presentation you'll witness will be riveting. Then again, you've got to listen to a good deal of background material." The story is set in Canton, Mississippi, in the 1970s, and follows aftermath of the rape and murder of a widow that is witnessed by her two young children. Herbert called Grisham "the consummate legal eagle who knows how to pull heartstrings even when the suspense is not thrill-a-minute." Praising The Last Juror as Grisham's "best book in years," Sean Daly noted in People that the novel quickly bounded to best-seller status.

In 2005, Grisham published The Broker, a novel about Joel Blackman, a former powerbroker who has been incarcerated for six years for his role in a billon-dollar deal involving software that controls a satellite spies. The CIA sends Joel to Italy as bait to see who tries to kill him, thus making the determination as to which country has the greatest investment in the software. Bob Minzesheimer, writing for USA Today, noted that the novel contains "a fresh approach and strong sense of place." Minzesheimer further commented, "it's Grisham living up to his reputation as a great storyteller." A Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that "the novel reads like a contented afterthought to a memorable Italian vacation, with little action or tension." However, Alan M. Dershowitz, writing in New York Times Book Review, concluded, "the spy-versus-spy intrigue is well constructed and fast-paced."

In little more than a decade, Grisham realized greater success than most writers enjoy in a lifetime. Despite such success, the former lawyer and politician remained realistic about his limitations and maintained that a time might come when he would walk away from writing just as he previously abandoned both law and politics. In his interview with Bearden in Publishers Weekly, he compared writers to athletes and concluded: "There's nothing sadder than a sports figure who continues to play past his prime." However, well into his second decade as a novelist, Grisham seemed far from that point. Book ideas "drop in from all directions," he told Svetkey in Entertainment Weekly. "Some gestate for years and some happen in a split second. They'll rattle around in my head for a while, and I'll catch myself mentally piecing it together. How do I suck the reader in, how do I maintain the narrative tension, how do I build up to some kind of exciting end?… Some of those will work, some won't."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 84, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995, pp. 189-201.

PERIODICALS

Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, March 15, 2004, Ruel S. De Vera, review of The Last Juror.

Book, January, 2001, Liz Seymour, "Grisham Gets Serious," pp. 34-36.

Booklist, February 1, 1993, p. 954; September 15, 2000, p. 259; February 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of A Painted House, p. 1020.

Boston Herald, March 2, 2004, Rosemary Herbert, review of The Last Juror, p. 40.

Christianity Today, October 3, 1994, p. 14; August 9, 1999, p. 70.

Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 1993, p. 10.

Detroit News, May 25, 1994, p. 3D.

Entertainment Weekly, April 1, 1994, Keli Pryor, interview with Grisham, pp. 15-20; June 3, 1994, Mark Harris, "Southern Discomfort," p. 48; July 15, 1994, p. 54; July 29, 1994, p. 23; February 13, 1998, Tom De Haven, review of The Street Lawyer, pp. 64-65; February 4, 2000, Tom De Haven, "Law of Desire," p. 63; February 11, 2000, Benjamin Svetkey, "Making His Case" (interview), pp. 63-64; February 9, 2001, Bruce Fretts, "Above the Law," pp. 68-69; February 15, 2002, Benjamin Svetkey, "Trial and Errors," pp. 60-61; September 12, 2003, Jennifer Reese, review of The Bleachers p. 155.

Florida Bar Journal, June, 1998, Jacalyn N. Kolk, review of The Street Lawyer, p. 115.

Forbes, August 30, 1993, p. 24; January 8, 2001, p. 218.

Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 30, 1991, p. C6.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2001.

Library Journal, August, 2000, p. 179; March 1, 2001, p. 131; September 1, 2001, p. 258; December, 2001, Samantha J. Gust, review of Skipping Christmas, pp. 170-171.

Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2001, p. E4; February 26, 2002, p. E3.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 10, 1991, Charles Champlin, "Criminal Pursuits," p. 7; April 5, 1992, p. 6; April 4, 1993, p. 6; May 14, 1995, Garry Abrams, review of The Rainmaker, p. 8.

National Review, April 6, 1998, pp. 51-52.

New Republic, August 2, 1993, p. 32; March 14, 1994, p. 32; August 22, 1994, p. 35.

Newsday, March 7, 1993.

New Statesman, June 9, 1995, p. 35.

Newsweek, February 25, 1991, p. 63; March 16, 1992, p. 72; March 15, 1993, pp. 79-81; December 20, 1993, p. 121; February 19, 1999, Malcolm Jones, "Grisham's Gospel," p. 65.

New York, August 1, 1994, pp. 52-53.

New Yorker, August 1, 1994, p. 16.

New York Times, March 5, 1993, p. C29; July 29, 1994, p. B10; April 19, 1995, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Rainmaker, pp. B1, B9; April 28, 1995, p. C33; May 23, 1996, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Runaway Jury, p. C20; March 31, 1997, Mel Gussow, review of The Partner, p. B1; February 4, 2002, p. B1; February 5, 2002, p. B7.

New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1991, p. 37; March 15, 1992, Frank J. Prial, "Too Liberal to Live," p. 9; October 18, 1992, p. 33; March 7, 1993, p. 18; December 23, 2001, p. 17; February 24, 2002, p. 13; January 9, 2005, Alan M. Dershowitz, "Pardon Me," p. 18.

People, April 8, 1991, pp. 36-37; March 16, 1992, pp. 43-44; March 15, 1993, pp. 27-28; June 27, 1994, p. 24; August 1, 1994, p. 16; March 2, 1998, Cynthia Sanz, review of The Street Lawyer, p. 37; February 12, 2001, p. 41; February 18, 2002, p. 41; February 23, 2004, Sean Daly, review of The Last Juror, p. 45.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 23, 1997, Robert Drake, review of The Partner.

Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1993, Michelle Bearden, "PW Interviews: John Grisham," pp. 70-71; May 30, 1994, p. 37; May 6, 1996, p. 71; February 10, 1997; February 1, 1999, review of The Testament, p. 78; January 10, 2000, p. 18; January 31, 2000, review of The Brethren, p. 84; January 22, 2001, review of A Painted House, p. 302; October 29, 2001, p. 20; November 5, 2001, review of Skipping Christmas, p. 43; February 18, 2002, p. 22; August 18, 2003, review of The Bleachers, p. 56; January 10, 2005, review of The Broker, p. 39.

Southern Living, August, 1991, p. 58.

Sunday Times (London, England), June 12, 1994, review of The Chamber, p. 1.

Time, March 9, 1992, John Skow, "Legal Eagle," p. 70; March 8, 1993, p. 73; June 20, 1994, John Skow, review of The Chamber, p. 67; August 1, 1994; February 26, 2001, Jess Cagle, review of A Painted House, p. 72.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 24, 1991, Bill Brashler, review of The Firm, p. 6; September 8, 1991, p. 10; February 23, 1992, p. 4; February 28, 1993, p. 7.

USA Today, January 13, 2005, Bob Minzesheimer, "Grisham Takes a Detour to Italy," p. 7D.

Voice Literary Supplement, July-August, 1991, p. 7.

Wall Street Journal, March 12, 1993, p. A6.

Washington Post, January 29, 2002, p. C3.

Yale Law Journal, June, 2003, review of The King of Torts, p. 2600.

ONLINE

Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 8, 2004), "Author Profile: John Grisham."

John Grisham Web Site, http://www.jgrisham.com/ (April 8, 2004).

University of Mississippi Web Site, http://www.olemiss.edu/ (April 8, 2004), "John Grisham."

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Grisham, John 1955–." Concise Major 21st Century Writers. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Grisham, John 1955–." Concise Major 21st Century Writers. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/grisham-john-1955

"Grisham, John 1955–." Concise Major 21st Century Writers. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/grisham-john-1955

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.