John Grisham Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
John Grisham manages simultaneously to glorify and vilify the legal profession; rarely does legal counsel appear as a neutral third party. Grisham says he develops plots by taking a character, then getting them involved in some situation and back out again. What he omits from this description is that often the protagonist makes a sacrifice, as in A Time to Kill, The Firm, and The Pelican Brief (1992). The difference between A Time to Kill and his second and third novels is that in the latter two novels he has created an outside force that looms in the background rather than an internal threat. Typically the heroes or heroines are ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats or attorneys, either fresh out of law school or practicing in some small town. In The Runaway Jury (1996), a woman is suing a tobacco company over her husband’s death. In The Client (1993), an eleven-year-old boy witnesses a suicide and knows the location where a murdered United States senator is buried. The child becomes the target of the Mafia and pursued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Grisham has been accused of not sufficiently developing his characters and focusing more on the surprising twists in his plots. The Client features more character development and complexity within his minor characters.
Grisham takes his readers on a journey into the legal system. In a sense, he opens up another world, taking readers behind the scenes, and glamorizes the courts and the law. Unlike many fantasy or science-fiction novels, however, his mysteries have plots that theoretically could happen. Grisham knows that what he writes is not high-brow literature but rather entertainment for the masses; however, he strives to improve his writing with each new novel. “They have a certain flow and level of suspense so they can be read quickly. People get caught up in them,” he told an interviewer from Christianity Today.
A Time to Kill
A Time to Kill, the first of Grisham’s books and deemed by critics to be his best, was written over three years while Grisham served in the Mississippi House of Representatives and practiced law. Because he based it on a deeply moving personal experience, he put a great deal of effort into character development and setting description. In the novel, attorney Jake Brigand defends an African American Vietnam war veteran, Carl Lee, who killed the two white men accused of raping his ten-year-old daughter. It is a tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Although sales of the novel were initially slow, it became a best seller after the publication of The Firm.
Grisham’s plot is superb in that every detail in the setting and characterization has purpose. Readers experience the pain of Carl Lee, whose “baby girl” has been raped by two rednecks. Grisham creates empathy between Jake and Carl by having the attorney state that he would want to kill anyone who raped and beat his daughter. The interconnectedness of the characters coupled with Grisham’s extensive knowledge of the setting makes this one of his best novels.
The Runaway Jury
In The Runaway Jury , a woman whose husband died of lung cancer as a result of smoking brings suit against Big Tobacco, which hires jury consultants to investigate potential jurors to ensure a bias in its favor. Led by Rankin Fitch, the team of consultants breaks confidentiality laws to obtain...
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