The Books of John Grisham

I don't usually read legal thrillers, but like millions of others I have read most of the fiction of John Grisham.  His early ones were made into successful motion pictures and combined with the bestsellers turned Grisham into a major publishing brand. 

With an anthology of short fiction and another legal pageturner coming out, now is as good a time as any for a quick look at the bibliography of his career.

A Time to Kill - Grisham's first novel had many of the elements that would become trademark elements of his future books: endearing characters, suspense, a legal setting, and a cinematic style of storytelling.  Grisham would continue to improve as a writer, but despite its flaws, this premiere tome had an undeniable charm that makes it a favorite of many.  The movie version starred Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson, and was directed by Joel Schumacher, telling the tale of a young lawyer defending a man who killed the men who brutally attacked his daughter.

The Firm - This was Grisham's breakout hit, both on the bestseller lists and as the first in a string of blockbuster films. It was a more polished thriller, the first in a long line of stories that would define the author's unmistakable style.  The film, directed by Sydney Pollack, starred Tom Cruise as a young lawyer ensnared in a law firm controlled by organized criminals.

The Pelican Brief - One of my favorite of Grisham's tales, a law student and an investigative reporter try to unravel the assassinations of Supreme Court Justices.  Starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, directed by Alan J. Pakula, the movie was another big hit.

The Client - A young kid knows too much after a senator is murdered, as a district attorney and a new lawyer try to both protect him and get the truth.  Joel Shumacher directed the movie adaptation with Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Brad Renfro in the leads.

The Chamber - Although Grisham sometimes gets accused of embracing cliches, his skill at portraying interesting characters progressively improves.  Here, a young lawyer (played by Chris O'Donnell in the James Foley directed movie) tries to defend his old uncle (portrayed by Gene Hackman in the film) who is on death row, ready to be executed via gas chamber.

The Rainmaker - The book was much more satisfying than the disappointing film by the otherwise great director Francis Ford Coppola, starring Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, and Claire Danes, about a novice lawyer's life is in danger when he takes on a major insurance case.

The Runaway Jury - Jury tampering and sinister secrets highlight this thriller set during a high-profile tobacco industry trial.  The film starred John Cusack and Dustin Hoffman, directed by Gary Fleder, the last movie adaptation of one of Grisham's legal novels.

The Partner - I had mixed feelings about this one, maybe because the protagonist was so unlikable -- a man who fakes his death and steals a fortune from his firm, quite different from the innocent young lawyers seeking justice in his previous stories.

The Street Lawyer - Grisham gets a little preachy here as he tells the tale of an attorney for the homeless.  Even though in the past, Grisham attacked the tobacco industry, mammoth insurance companies, and corrupt law firms, in this novel his writing tends to be more heavyhanded than usual.

The Testament - An alcoholic lawyer whose life is in disarray seeks redemption as he hunts down a mysterious heir to a fortune left behind in the last will and testament of one of the richest men on Earth.  Grisham's mastery of suspenseful storytelling returns to the right track with this one.

The Brethren - Grisham reaches a highpoint of plot development in this novel that includes imprisoned judges planning a wide-ranging extortion campaign, and a Presidential candidate controlled by the malevolent Director of the C.I.A.

A Painted House - Abandoning lawyers and focusing on a more intimate narrative set in a rural farm, Grisham still manages to add some suspense and a murder in this departure from his usual fare. 

Skipping Christmas - Grisham takes a stab at humor with this holiday tale that was made into a forgettable movie called Christmas with the Kranks, directed by Joe Roth, and starring Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dan Aykroyd.

The Summons - Fans of Grisham's legal thrillers rejoiced when the writer returned to the genre that made him famous.  A law professor and his estranged brother battle over an inheritance.

The King of Torts - Grisham returns to some of the staples that defined his earlier books -- a young lawyer, a conspiracy, and moral turmoil.

Bleachers - When I learned early on that Grisham was a baseball fan, I hoped that someday he'd write a thriller set in the professional world of America's favorite pastime.  Well, this sports tale is a start -- a nostalgic look at high school football.

The Last Juror - Many fans want Grisham to stick to legal thrillers, and he obliges with this story.  The lead character is a young newspaper man, but the suspense is intense as a murderer is released from prison early the jurors who put him behind bars starting turning up dead.

The Broker - Familiar stuff here that starts off strong but then gets bogged down in Italy, but it does have an exciting chase at the end.

The Innocent Man - Grisham tackles non-fiction, chronicling the story of a man convicted of a crime he didn't commit.

Playing for Pizza - More football, more Italy.  What? 

The Appeal - Back to legal fictional thrillers as we see the aftermath of a guilty verdict against a chemical company charged with dumping carcinogenic waste in a small town.

The Associate - Called "vintage Grisham" for good and bad, this is a generic Grisham tale, but sometimes that's what his fans want.

Ford County - A collection of shortstories by John Grisham set in the location of his first novel, there are some nice gems here.

The Confession - Due to be released at the end of October, the tagline is: "An innocent man is about to be executed, only a guilty man can save him."  Will it be a Grisham hit or a disappointment?

Maybe he's not the greatest writer in the world, but John Grisham has a knack for telling tales that entertain and thrill.  It will be interesting to see what the remainder of his productive career has in store.