Authors: John Grisham

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

A Time to Kill, 1989

The Firm, 1991

The Pelican Brief, 1992

The Client, 1993

The Chamber, 1994

The Rainmaker, 1995

The Runaway Jury, 1996

The Partner, 1997

The Street Lawyer, 1998

The Testament, 1999

The Brethen, 2000

A Painted House, 2001

Skipping Christmas, 2001

The Summons, 2002

The King of Torts, 2003


John Grisham (GRIHSH-uhm), a so-called blockbuster novelist and himself a lawyer, writes fast-paced thrillers based in the legal profession. Most of his works have become enormously successful commercially, both as long-term best-sellers and as popular films.{$I[AN]9810001780}{$I[A]Grisham, John}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Grisham, John}{$I[tim]1955;Grisham, John}

Grisham was born in the South, where, because his father worked for a construction company, the family moved frequently to locations in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. His family, he has said, was made up of readers and storytellers, and he attributes his writing ability to both those qualities.

John Grisham.

(Courtesy, Doubleday & Co.)

After earning a degree in accounting at Mississippi State University, Grisham attended the University of Mississippi School of Law and received his law degree in 1981. He practiced law in Southaven, Mississippi, just south of Memphis, Tennessee, for the next ten years. From 1984 to 1990 he also served in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Grisham’s legal career was successful if unspectacular, but he became increasingly cynical about the profession and, finding that he was more interested in literature than in legal cases, decided to write a novel. He wrote A Time to Kill in longhand over a period of three years by rising every morning at 5 a.m. The book was by no means an instant success (it originally sold only about five thousand copies), but Grisham believes that it may be his best book. The plot, which concerns the efforts of a small-town lawyer to defend a black Vietnam veteran accused of killing two men who had raped his ten-year-old daughter, shows certain organizational flaws but does clearly stake out territory with which the author is entirely familiar.

Grisham began his second novel, The Firm, as a purely commercial venture, and here he first began using the pattern (some have called it the “formula”) that has led to his extraordinary publishing success. The plot of this book–a vulnerable protagonist up against a hideous conspiracy of some sort–is repeated with intriguing variations in most of Grisham’s subsequent novels. According to Grisham, he wrote his third and fourth books, The Pelican Brief and The Client, in part to convince his wife Renée that he could construct strong female protagonists. Grisham’s protagonists are usually either novices in the legal profession or idealists struggling against the system. In either case they tend to confront–and win against–powers such as the Mafia, the U.S. government, and giant insurance companies. He has said that his fascination is with normal people suddenly thrown into life-threatening circumstances. Some critics find fault with plots built upon implausible situations, but others counter that this is part of the definition of popular fiction.

One of Grisham’s most intriguing–and in some ways one of his most flawed–novels is The Chamber, which contains editing lapses and incidents of unconscious racism but also presents a compelling argument against the death penalty. The book, while problematic, is remarkable in its presentation of the gritty reality of death row.

Although Grisham continues to use the legal world as the basis of most of his work and the plots remain fast paced, starting with The Chamber, he began to include some social commentary in his stories and his plots become more intricate. He deals with issues of homelessness in The Street Lawyer. He calls attention to the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest and its native inhabitants in The Testament. He leaves the courtroom altogether in Skipping Christmas, and the somewhat autobiographical A Painted House is a coming-of-age story. Although his fiction has become more serious and less predictable, it is no less compelling and readable.

BibliographyAnderson, Patrick. The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction. New York: Random House, 2007. Section on Grisham discusses how his novels have changed over the years. Anderson states that Grisham is the best of the mega-selling novelists in the 1990’s and 2000’s.Bearden, Michelle. “John Grisham: In Six Years He’s Gone from Rejection Slips to Mega-Sales.” Publishers Weekly 240 (February, 1993): 70-71. The author discusses Grisham’s early career and his rise to best-selling writer.Best, Nancy, ed. Readings on John Grisham. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Essays cover his personal life and writing process, the genre of legal thriller, and the themes and issues in his various novels.Cauthen, Cramer R., and Donald G. Alpin III. “The Gift Refused: The Southern Lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, The Client, and Cape Fear.” Studies in Popular Culture 19, no. 2 (October, 1996): 257-275. A comparative study of the treatment of the southern lawyer in modern popular fiction.Duffy, Martha. “Grisham’s Law.” Time 145, no. 19 (May 8, 1995): 87-88. Takes a look at Grisham’s life and influence at the time of the publication of The Rainmaker.Goodman, Walter. “Legal Thrillers Obey Laws of Commerce.” The New York Times, February 29, 2000, Late Edition, p. E1. Goodman discusses Grisham’s ability to hold his legion of readers through the analysis of five novels.Grisham, John. John Grisham: The Official Site. The official Web site for John Grisham offers a biography, descriptions of his published works, and news about upcoming projects.Grossman, Lev. “Grisham’s New Pitch.” Time, October 16, 2006, 68. Profile of Grisham on the publication of The Innocent Man that examines his writings outside legal thrillers. Discusses how he came to write the story of Ron Williamson.Harris, June. “John Grisham.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by Susan Brown. Detroit: St. James Press, 1996. Focuses on Grisham’s work and its place in contemporary fiction.Hubbard, Kim, and David Hutchings. “Tales Out of Court.” People, March 16, 1992, 43-44. This profile of Grisham looks at his childhood, his southern roots, and the incident that inspired him to write his first book. He speaks of his life values and family.Mote, Dave. “John Grisham.” In Contemporary Popular Writers, edited by Mote. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997. A critical look at Grisham’s place among popular writers. Looks at comparative merits of several books.Norton, Will, Jr. “Why John Grisham Teaches Sunday School.” Christianity Today 38, no. 11 (October 3, 1994): 14-15. Discusses the influence of Christianity on Grisham throughout his life.Pringle, Mary Beth. John Grisham: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. Contains information on Grisham’s life and works, including critiques of his novels through 1996. Also provides an in-depth look at the genre of legal thrillers.Pringle, Mary Beth. Revisiting John Grisham: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007. Contains a further biography and critiques of his novels from 1997 to 2003.Zaleski, Jeff. “The Grisham Business.” Publishers Weekly 245, no. 3 (January 19, 1998): 248-249. A profile of Grisham written after the publication of The Street Lawyer that focuses on the business generated by his novels and the motion pictures that have been made from them.
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