© 2018 John Grisham
On an otherwise unremarkable autumn morning in rural Mississippi, an idolized war hero traveled from his farm into town, visited the preacher, and shot him. The sheriffs found the shooter patiently waiting for them on his front porch, where he offered neither resistance nor explanation. The entire town is dumbfounded to see two of its favorite sons turn on one another so inexplicably, and in a way that will destroy the families as the criminal trial and then a wrongful death trial wear on. The trials here are quick and brutal; instead, the meat of The Reckoning lies in an account of the Bataan Death March and the plight of two children whose lives and homes are destroyed by their parents’ decisions.
Say what you will about The Reckoning, but it’s decidedly different from anything else Grisham has written, set completely in the 1940s and featuring an aspect of the Pacific War (American resistance in the Philippines to Japanese occupation) few will be familiar with. The first third of the novel addresses the immediate consequences of the preacher-killing, before shifting several years prior, to tell the story of a country farmer turned jungle commando, who barely survived the Bataan death march and escaped to take up with American and Filipino soldiers in the mountains who were engaged in guerilla warfare against the Japanese occupational forces. The novel then shifts back to the aftermath of the killing and the trials, which….is about as uplifting as reading about the Japanese torturing and starving thousands of men after Bataan. That bit in the middle about the resistance was nice, though.
I can’t deny that I enjoyed reading The Reckoning — I only received it Christmas morning and now write this less than 24 hours later, like a few other Grisham reads over the years. The first two thirds are unexpected, and with all the Faulkner references (characters are constantly reading him, and the writer himself appears as a minor character) I thought Grisham might produce a completely unexpected conclusion. Why did the hero shoot the preacher? Was this the hero’s way of immolating himself for not living up to his own legend, and taking another secret ne’er do well with him? Was the preacher a Japanese sympathizer? In the end it comes down to a very old story, which is unsatisfying given how depressing the novel was as it reached the conclusion.
While I was appropriately intrigued and riveted by The Reckoning, it’s mostly melancholy.