John Grisham digs deeply into history with this excellent WWII novel

The Reckoning is John Grisham's excellent WWII novel.

John Grisham is well known around the world as an author of popular courtroom dramas and other legal thrillers. Now, in 2018, he has ventured into new territory with an extraordinary historical novel. Although some of the action takes place in the courtroom, the central elements of the story are a shocking murder, the dynamics of a well-to-do Mississippi family, and the horrific experience of American soldiers forced into the Bataan Death March.


The Reckoning by John Grisham (2018) 417 pages

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In The Reckoning, the action unfolds over an eight-year period in the 1940s. Grisham tells the backstory in flashbacks that begin in 1925. War overshadows the events in both periods. The central character is Pete Banning, a West Point graduate. Banning joined the US Army as a lieutenant in 1925, left to take over the family cotton farm during the Depression, and returned to the service in 1942. His experiences in the Philippines during World War II dominate the story.

From the Bataan Death March to murder in Mississippi

Banning’s cold-blooded murder of his hometown preacher in 1946 is the hinge on which the tale turns. Clearly, his wartime experiences on the Bataan Death March and later as a guerrilla fighter with the Philippine Resistance help to explain why he committed murder so soon after returning home. But his attorney is unable to enter any evidence of those experiences into the record, since Banning resolutely refuses to explain why he did what he did and will not cooperate in his defense.

John Grisham becomes deadly serious in an excellent WWII novel

Grisham’s popularity rests largely on his ability to write entertaining stories. They can be deadly serious at times, exposing corporate greed, judicial misconduct, or corruption of other sorts. But his books are breezily written, suspenseful from beginning to end, and generally shy away from lurid displays of violence. The Reckoning departs from this pattern, and it couldn’t be otherwise. The Bataan Death March is one of the most horrific examples of sadistic cruelty and wanton murder to emerge from the Second World War. Grisham has researched the topic well, and it shows.

About the author

John Grisham has written 39 novels since 1989. (Yes, that’s more than one per year. And that doesn’t include his many short stories and articles and the numerous films and television adaptations on which he no doubt played a role.) As is well known, Grisham is an attorney and is an advocate of prison and legal reform. He lives with his family in Oxford, Mississippi, a city that is featured in The Reckoning, his latest work.

For additional reading

My posts 5 top nonfiction books about World War II (plus many runners-up) and The 10 best novels about World War II (plus 19 runners-up) may interest you.

I’ve reviewed ten other John Grisham novels, including these three:

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If you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).

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