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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Reckoning by John Grisham

(1. – 973.) The Reckoning by John Grisham – War hero Pete Banning is back on his farm in Ford County, Mississippi in October of 1946 thinking:

    Finally, as the first trace of dawn  
    peeked through a window, he 
    accepted the solemn reality that it 
    was time for the killing.

He rises. He has his usual breakfast. He goes to the next farm to see his sister. He climbs in his new truck with his dog and drives slowly to town. He goes into the Methodist Church. He says to the Reverend Dexter Bell that Bell knows why he is here and that Bell will be the first coward he has killed. Bell exclaims that if it is about Liza he can explain. Banning raises his .45 and kills Bell.

Clanton is stuned. A prominent minister has been slain by a prominent citizen. Such violence does not happen among the prominent white citizens of the community. There has not been a murder of any white resident of the county for 10 years and that killing involved a pair of sharecroppers.

Banning refuses to say anything to the Sheriff or longtime family lawyer, John Wilbanks, about why he killed Bell.

Wilbanks pleads with Banning to give him information that will give him some defence or at least a mitigating factor. Nothing.

Banning insists on a trial where there is no defence. For Wilbanks:

Why couldn’t some other lawyer sit benignly at the defense table and captain this sinking ship? From the perspective of an accomplished trial lawyer, it was unsettling, almost embarrassing.

Trial lawyers are very competitive people. To sit passively is torture. I could feel the dismay and frustration of Wilbanks. What is the purpose of this charade of a trial?

The trial and conviction and sentence and execution unfold with an awful predictability. Grisham does not shy from executions.

At this point I wondered why a third of the book had recounted a story inevitable in its telling and totally lacking in “why”.

The next third of the book involved a long exploration of Pete’s experiences in the American Army in the Philippines. The Japanese Army brutally treated the American and Filipino soldiers who surrendered. 

For the first time in quite awhile I felt Grisham had drifted from the theme of the book. The section on WW II, while interesting, could either have been shortened or more connected to the legal issues related to those facts.

The final third sees the civil reckoning as Bell’s family relentlessly pursues a civil action for the killing of Pastor Bell.

The how of this section is as inexorable as the murder trial and execution. The facts allow no legal defences.

What The Reckoning illustrates is why the “law” cannot be driven by emotion. The widow and children of the deceased pastor are innocent victims of the murder. They have suffered grave personal and financial loss. Pete’s children, Joel and Stella, are equally innocent. Their father has murdered a man and his action has devastated their family and financial future.

It is not for the law to decide which victims are more innocent. If there was wrong done the defendant or his estate is liable to pay damages.

In Canada a policy decision was made long ago not to compensate the surviving family members of a wrongful death for pain and suffering. It was decided awards for pain and suffering would be limited to living victims. This policy restricts wrongful death cases to proving pecuniary damages (financial loss).

In The Reckoningthe focus is on financial loss but the jury increases the compensation by awarding substantial punitive damages. I doubt the punitive damage award would have survived appeal in Canada.

I can just imagined the frustration of Wilibanks who represents the Estate in the civil action. An implacable adversary and a hopeless case. I felt his helplessness for the facts were so stark they could lead to no other endings to the criminal murder charge and civil claim for damages. It is the first of Grisham’s books set in Ford County in Mississippi that left me disappointed.

Ultimately there is a “why” in The Reckoning and it is credible. Part of the “why” could be anticipated but Grisham does create a surprise.
Grisham, John – (2000) - The Brethren; (2001) - A Painted House; (2002) - The Summons; (2003) - The King of Torts; (2004) - The Last Juror; (2005) - The Runaway Jury; (2005) - The Broker; (2008) - The Appeal; (2009) - The Associate; (2011) - The Confession; (2011) - The Litigators; (2012) - "G" is for John Grisham - Part I and Part II; (2013) - The Racketeer; (2013) - Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Analyzing Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Sycamore Row; (2014) - Gray Mountain and Gray Mountain and Real Life Legal Aid; (2015) - Rogue Lawyer and Sebastian Rudd; (2016) - The Whistler; (2017) - Camino Island; (2017) - The Rooster Bar and Law Students and Integrity; Probably hardcover


  1. This one sounds like a different sort of book to some of the others Grisham's written, Bill. The focus on the financial and compensation factors is interesting, and I also find it interesting that this one's historical, rather than set in contemporary times. It sounds as though there's a lot here, as there often is with a Grisham novel.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It was interesting and I love history but the legal aspects were actually minimal.

  2. Thanks for the review, Bill. I enjoy reading John Grisham's novels. Even if the "law (is) not driven by emotion," his characters are, I think. Also very affecting, to the extent it is possible to empathise with their situation, be it victims or defendants. They touch a nerve, so to speak. I gather this from the few novels I have read so far.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. I equally enjoy Grisham. I have read all of his legal novels. It is a rare author who can create empathy for the survivors of killer and killed.