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John Grisham Talks 'The Reckoning,' Movies and Writing Ahead of Cleveland Visit

Before he became a best-selling author, John Grisham was a lawyer and state legislator in Mississippi. He wrote his first novel, “A Time to Kill,” on the side in the 80s, but it was his second novel, “The Firm,” also a popular movie, that paved the way for a career in writing.

As he launches his 40th book this week, “The Reckoning,” Grisham said he does not miss practicing law.

He stays close to it writing legal suspense. His latest revolves around a WWII hero murdering his pastor in the late 40s in a fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi, also the setting of “A Time to Kill.” After the murder, the main character, Pete Banning, refuses to say why he did it.

“Like most writers, I stole the idea,” Grisham said. “I heard the story probably 30 years ago.”

Still, he said he never met a client like Banning.  

“Most of my criminal defense clients were too happy to talk, and talked too much,” Grisham said. “That’s a problem a lawyer has all the time, getting your client to shut up.”

The book also explores the main character’s war experience before he commits the crime, when he was one of thousands of prisoners of war in the Philippines forced to march with their captors in the Bataan Death March.  

“That’s very different for me to write something that’s historically accurate in the context of a legal thriller,” he said.


Grisham said he would like for this book, or really any of his others, to become a movie as well. It has been more than a decade since the last adaptation.

“It’s so hard to get a movie made these days,” he said. “There are not too many good, adult dramas made today.”

Grisham is on a four-city tour with the release of “The Reckoning,” which includes a stop in Cleveland. He is set to speak Thursday evening to a sold-out crowd at the Maltz Performing Arts Center as part of the William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage Series, presented by Case and the Cuyahoga County library.

Listen to ideastream's full interview with John Grisham in the audio player. 

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