By Ekta R. Garg
November 14, 2018
Release date: October 23, 2018
Rated: Bypass it / 1 star
A man commits murder in broad daylight. Despite repeated requests from his family and law enforcement officers, he refuses to say why and the fallout from the murder changes the family forever. John Grisham comes back with his latest novel, a plodding, meandering story in the lackluster book The Reckoning.
After surviving horrific conditions as a soldier and a POW in the South Pacific in World War II, Pete Banning comes back to a hero’s welcome in Clanton, Mississippi. Even his severe injuries—in a cast from his hip down to his feet—can’t stem his enthusiasm for being home. During his months in captivity, thoughts of his wife, Liza, and his children, Joel and Stella, gave him the will to survive. Pete has seen and endured the worst that human beings can do to one another.
Clanton residents receive a rude shock, then, when they learn that Pete has shot and killed the pastor of the Methodist church. Pete doesn’t deny it, and he doesn’t try to run when witnesses find him at the scene. He cooperates with the police, giving them the murder weapon and following them without a single word to the local jail.
His reticence, however, is exactly the problem. Every time anyone—his lawyer; the sheriff; his sister, Florry—asks him why he did it, all he says is, “I have nothing to say.” The small-town gossip mill churns at a furious rate, but Pete refuses to confirm any of it. While he does feel a pinch of remorse for the pastor’s wife and three young children, he believes he made the right decision.
Despite his lawyer’s best efforts, Pete receives the death penalty. Everyone in town agrees the killing was senseless, and they struggle to reconcile the image of war hero with that of common murderer. Surely Pete of all people would understand the sanctity of life, wouldn’t he?
Author John Grisham lets his story flounder from the beginning. In the first 90 pages of the book, the characters spend their time talking about how awful the murder is and the fact that they don’t understand it. By page 175 Grisham takes that part of the story to its conclusion with the exception of one major fact: the motive. Pete Banning remains steadfast in his silence throughout all those pages, but the gossip mongers—and common sense—will lead readers to draw a realistic conclusion on why Pete killed the pastor.
Divided into three parts, the second section goes back to Pete’s time as a soldier and a prisoner of war. Grisham’s research is thorough and meticulous, but his prose keeps readers at arm’s length by simply narrating the story. Even the horrors of prisoner camps receive monotonous treatment. The juxtaposition turns the second part of the book, all 123 pages of it, into a dry history tale. Readers will feel some sympathy for Pete, but they wouldn’t be faulted for wondering about halfway through the narrative just what his experiences there have to do with the murder he commits later.
Grisham attempts to answer that question in the last 112 pages (the final section of the book) and fails in a catastrophic manner, only because readers will already have guessed why Pete did it. A clumsy plot twist four pages from the end will likely disappoint and even anger longtime Grisham fans. The author, at one time known for smart, sharp plots, makes a lazy attempt at an ending that doesn’t fit with the storyline presented and seems more designed for sensationalism than anything else.
The dialogue throughout is stilted and unrealistic. Pete Banning’s family members spend all their time in the book wringing their hands and weeping at this horrible turn of events at their lives. No other characters received the development they so rightly deserved, leaving the Banning family to make the biggest impact. That impact is minimal, because they have nothing to do in the story.
Even the most ardent Grisham fans will find it difficult to justify their loyalty after reading The Reckoning, which is why I recommend readers Bypass it.