The Reckoning by John Grisham


John Grisham’s story “The Reckoning” takes place in 1946 in the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi. It is his sixth novel to take place in this town and like Stephen King’s Castle Rock Maine it may become a signature for him.

Pete Banning is the patriarch of the family that has been part of the town’s history for generations. He owns 640 acres debt free, is a successful cotton farmer, and faithful member of the local Methodist church.

Pete’s World War II service in the jungles of the Philippines distinguished him a decorated war hero, but his capture and time fighting after he escape leave him lucky to be alive. He longs for his family and for Liza his beautiful wife. After being missing and presumed dead he returns, and everyone is surprised, shocked and thrilled to have Pete, a genuine war hero, return.  

A few months after his return Pete gets up and goes about his normal activities before going into town, where he walks in on Dexter Bell, the pastor of the local Methodist church, and pulls out a gun and shoots three times, killing Bell.

Sheriff Nix Gridley arrests Pete and takes him to jail.  Pete will not answer the question as to why he did it only saying, "I have nothing to say."  It becomes clear that Pete was not afraid of death and was willing to take his motive for the shooting to his grave.

The mystery in this plot is why would a respected war hero cold-bloodily gun down the local pastor and why does he refuse to allow his attorney to plead insanity?  Pete has no intention to let us know the answer to this.

Liza falls apart, even before the murder, and is committed to an insane asylum. We want to know if the shooting has something to do with Liza, but that is unclear until late in the book

This novel is unlike anything Grisham has written before, taking us from the Jim Crow south to the jungles of the Philippines and back to the Clanton courtroom.

The timeline of the novel doesn’t start at the beginning and we learn about the war experiences looking back from Pete’s return, leaving us with uncertainties as to why we need to learn about those experiences at first. The ending of the story pulls it together and it is a interesting story, but it takes a commitment to stay with it.

See Literary Favorites for more about John Grisham and links to the other Grisham books reviewed here.