The Reckoning by John Grisham - Book Review

Let me start by saying that this is unlike any other John Grisham book. Yes, it does have courtroom scenes including one incredibly explicit and grisly one that you might not enjoy.

The book is set almost exclusively in the 1940s, something of a departure for Mister G. He doesn't set many in the the past. It follows the fortunes of the Banning family from Mississippi, landowners and cotton farmers, and particularly the head of the family, Peter Banning, who leaves his very loving wife and two teenage children and goes off to fight in the Philippine jungles of World War II.

The book is divided into three distinct parts. Law abiding Pete Banning has miraculously returned from the conflict, battered and broken, limping and slow, but that doesn’t stop him entering the Methodist vicarage, pointing a gun at the highly thought of Methodist preacher who’s busy writing his sermon, and firing three shots into the guy, killing him instantly.

He walks away in full view of various witnesses and waits for the law to come calling, and in due course they do, and Pete is carted off to the local jail, where he refuses to discus the case, or file any explanation for his actions. That’s how the book opens, and there is nothing for it, Pete must go on trial for his life.

The large centre section of the book is devoted entirely to the fighting in the Philippines, where Pete is forced to take part in the appalling Bataan march. This is a harrowing story and Mister Grisham has rightly taken inspiration and facts from half a dozen expert books that concentrated on the Philippines' conflict.

I don’t believe John Grisham has ever written a war book before, but he does here, and in places it came across as a bit clunky, as if he was not totally happy with how things were going. But that does in no way detract from the horrors of the appalling fighting and behaviour on the islands and in the jungle.

Part Three deals with the total aftermath, after the war, after the opening murder, and after the effects it has on every family member, not to mention countless neighbours and friends. There’s also a fair bit in there about human greed, a staple of many a story.

I enjoyed The Reckoning very much. It was for me a real page-turner. You know what you are going to get with a John Grisham book, except in this case, here you don’t.

If you like Mr Grisham’s work then the chances are, that you will enjoy this one too. If you have never read one, (are there people on the planet who have never read a John Grisham book? - I’d be surprised to hear that!) then you have a huge body of great work to dive into. Whether this is the one I’d start with is another matter, but hey, you have to start somewhere!