Described as not a typical John Grisham legal thriller, The Reckoning takes us back to Ford County, Mississippi, immediately after the Second World War. In the first pages of the novel, Pete Banning, cotton farmer, West Point graduate, favorite son of Clanton, and war hero back from the presumed dead, drives into town and murders the pastor of the local Methodist church in his office. Pete refuses to mount a defense, saying only “I have nothing to say.”
The middle section of the novel describe Pete’s experiences in the war. He survives the harrowing Bataan death march and Japanese prisoner of war camps, and becomes a guerilla fighting the Japanese in the jungles of the Philippines. Those scenes are graphic and horrifying. Back in Clanton, the Methodist pastor comforts the bereaved widow, perhaps too much.
And adding to the mystery, Pete’s wife has been committed to a mental hospital, and no one in the family other than Pete is allowed to see her.
The courtroom drama here is about the slow process of surrendering all of the Banning family property to the widow of the slain pastor as Pete’s estate is sued for damages. Pete’s children, in college and law school, must reckon with a future that looks very different than the one they expected. Grisham covers a lot of ground and explores many themes in The Reckoning, and I did not find the ending particularly satisfying, but the novel was entertaining and readable.