John Grisham is a former attorney turned writer, who decided to write suspense stories involving the legal profession. After a tepid response to his first book A Time to Kill
, he achieved national recognition for his book The Firm
. Soon after, he would write many more books, such as The Pelican Brief
, The Client
and The Rainmaker
. Each book had a Tom Clancy
-like fetishism for detail about whatever aspect of the legal profession it centered around, and all are clear cases of Grisham having shown his work
Occasionally, Grisham has dabbled in lighter, non-legal-oriented fiction, but it's his legal thrillers that put bread on the table, more or less. Thus far he has made a profession known mostly for paperwork and long speeches seem like a breeding ground for some of the finest Magnificent Bastards
and Smug Snakes
in modern Literature.
A fair number of Grisham's books have been adapted into movies at one point or another, with varying degrees of quality and faithfulness to the source material.
Tropes present in his works below:
- Author Tract: Grisham makes no pretense of being unbiased. Many of his books are unapologetic left-wing critiques of conservative notions of law and justice, and The Confession in particular reads like a death penalty abolitionist's wish fulfillment fanfic (not that it ends in the favor of death penalty abolitionists). His afterwords typical make his intended point crystal clear, when he includes them.
- The Summons and The King of Torts both serve as condemnations of the American tort system and the predatory lawyers that use it, as exemplified by the character of Patton French.
- The Appeal serves as a condemnation of the controversial system of electing appellate and Supreme Court representatives, rather than simply of the predatory litigants that use it to replace offending (read: plaintiff-friendly) judges. Ironically, it's very supportive of the Tort system compard to the previous works.
- Downplayed in the Theodore Boone juvenile fiction books. Grisham states that both of Theo's parents are political moderates overall.
- The Rainmaker doesn't have nice things to say about insurance companies. While Grisham does make it clear that the practices of Great Benefit are not common and are clearly wrong from any side of the political spectrum, the characters are not kind with regards to any insurance company.
- The Runaway Jury seems like a massive Take That against the tobacco industry, (in the novel) and the gun manufacturers, (in the film).
- Bittersweet Ending: The King of Torts ends with Clay losing everything, but ending up with the woman he loves and not in jail.
- The Testament ends with the protagonist finally expelling his demons and finding something worthwhile to do with his life. But it comes at the expense of the one of only two decent and good human beings presented in the story, who died unknown and unmourned deep in the Amazon rainforest.
- Broken Bird: Kelly in The Rainmaker. This is what attracts Rudy and eventually leads him to kill a man.
- The Chessmaster: Almost always two at the very least.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: In The Chamber low-risk prisoners at Mississippi State Penitentiary wear white uniforms. Sam Cayhall and his fellow condemned prisoners wear red jumpsuits. Adam also notices some prisoners in blue uniforms, but the reason for those uniforms isn't explained.
- Continuity Nod: Characters like Reuben V. Atlee, Patton French and Harry Rex Vonner have appeared in multiple novels.
- Creator Thumbprint: You'll notice a lot of his titles are "The [Something, likely a legal term]".
- Downer Ending: The Chamber, The Partner, The Appeal, possibly The Confession.
- Everybody Smokes: In The Chamber, it's repeatedly noted that most of the condemned prisoners at Mississippi State Penitentiary are heavy smokers. They spend 23 hours a day in their cells, so there isn't much else to do, and since they're going to be executed, they don't care about the potential health risks: they actually consider it a race, to see if they can kill themselves before the state does.
- Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The US President in "The Pelican Brief" is never named. He's just "The President," or "Mr. President" if someone's addressing him. This is particularly noticeable because all of the other highly-placed characters (such as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the FBI Director and the President's Chief Of Staff) do have names.
- Frivolous Lawsuit: Referenced in The Chamber. A prisoner complains to a guard that breakfast is being served eleven minutes late. The guard sarcastically says, "Sue us." The prisoner says he has his rights and the guard replies that prisoners' rights are a pain in the ass. The prisoner then threatens to sue him for using abusive language.
- Evil Plan: The plot is usually kicked off by one, many more types of plans executed throughout as a result.
- Gambit Pileup: Read "The Runaway Jury" for a rather awesome example.
- Gambit Roulette: The Magnificent Bastards of each book are using these to screw over many of the other Chessmasters, most with a fair degree of success.
- The Grinch: The Kranks, of Skipping Christmas. Or at least they're viewed as such by their neighbors, anyway.
- Hollywood Silencer: Shows up occasionally, like at the beginning of "The Pelican Brief".
- Hot for Student: Several of his books contain this as a side story.
- Idiot Ball: In The King Of Torts, Clay picks it up and runs with it after the halfway point, unable to see beyond his own needs, just what he promised he would avoid in the first half of the book.
- Insistent Terminology: In The Chamber, Adam Hall visits the Mississippi State Penitentiary and explains that he's there to meet with a prisoner on Death Row. A corrections officer says there is no such thing as Death Row. Condemned prisoners are housed in the Maximum Security Unit (or MSU), but the prison has no area that is officially named Death Row.
- Jury and Witness Tampering: Part of the main plot of The Runaway Jury (and its film adaptation Runaway Jury) has attempts to coerce or incapacitate the jurors in a lawsuit.
- Karma Houdini: Max Pace, the "fireman" that convinces Clay to sell his soul for $15 million in The King Of Torts, is never caught, and never seen or heard from in the third act. Clay takes the fall instead.
- In The Appeal, a phone call from "The Senator" sets into motion a chain of events through which The Trudeau Group (the main shareholder of the affected firm) escapes a Humiliation Conga.
- Lampshade Hanging: In "The Chamber," a young Chicago lawyer turns out to have taken a job at a prominent, liberal-leaning law firm with a number of Jewish senior partners specifically so that he can take over the case of one of their clients - a former KKK member on Death Row for killing the children of a Jewish lawyer who happens to be the young lawyer's grandfather. At one point, one of the firm's lawyers flat out asks how they came to represent this guy - to which another lawyer responds that it's a long story, and at that point kind of irrelevant.note
- Laser-Guided Karma: In the final act of The King Of Torts, Clay pays dearly for all the things he did wrong: his stock market victories are forfeited to prevent prosecution for insider trading; his unbelievably successful mass tort litigation went too fast, because he was blinded by the money, and he finds himself on the receiving end of a mass tort as a result; his callous treatment of his clients as sources of money rather than people with needs gets him viciously assaulted by those same clients, and on and on.
- Meaningful Rename: In The Chamber, Adam Hall was born Alan Cayhall, but his father changed their names to obscure their relationship to Sam Cayhall, Adam's grandfather, because he was convicted of murdering two Jewish children on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In the movie version of The Firm, the Running Gag about the bar exam gives Mitch a clue to how to take down the law firm.
Wayne: "How did you come up with mail fraud?"
Mitch: "It was in the bar exam. They made me study like hell for it."
- Obfuscating Disability: Sarge in The Pelican Brief. He's an elderly janitor who works at the White House. He moves slowly, doesn't talk much, and wears sunglasses all the time, so people tend to think that his hearing and eyesight are very bad. Consequently, high-ranking officials don't always watch what they say around him. His hearing is actually fine, so he overhears a great deal of sensitive information. He sometimes leaks stories to the Washington Post, and he always gets away with this, because who in their right mind would suspect him?
- Oh, Crap: The reaction of a LOT of people in The King Of Torts. Philo Products, the corporation that bought the company Clay sued, have a massive Oh, Crap when they find out Dyloft is much more deadly than previously thought. The clients who took Dyloft have an DA Oh, Crap when they find out that their bladder tumors, previously benign, have become deadly. And the lawyers are aptly summed up by Patton French: "We're screwed!"
- The corrupt DA and crooked cop who bullied an innocent man into confessing, and than cause his execution, have a massive "Oh shit"reaction when confronted with concrete proof that they executed the wrong man, and that the guy claiming to be the real murderer actually told the truth.
- Papa Bear: Carl Lee Hayley in A Time To Kill.
"Yes, they deserved to die, and I hope they burn in hell!"note
- Passed-Over Inheritance: Kicks off the plot of "The Testament."
- Pretty in Mink: In The Firm, Mitch buys his wife a fox coat in their first Christmas after joining the law firm.
- Reality Ensues: The Testament mostly glosses over the fact that the holographic will signed by the deceased Mr. Phelan, and by his daughter at the end of the novel, will be subject to severe estate taxes, greatly reducing the value of the estate itself. Phelan's lawyer laments the fact that it was done that way, as it means hundreds of millions of dollars lost. Twice!
- In The Chamber, Adam Hall applied for, and received, a job as a prestigious law firm specifically so that he could work his way to the pro bono department and represent a specific client: his grandfather. When news of this reaches the partners, the first thing they try to do is fire him for lying and/or falsifying his job application.
- In The King of Torts, Clay is advised on how to sue a company for a dangerous product, then receives some off the books advice that short-selling the company on the stock market before he sues might be a good idea, a move that nets him millions of dollars. In the third act, he's investigated for insider trading.
- In The Rainmaker, Rudy wins a massive lawsuit against an insurance company, worth millions of dollars. The company then declares bankruptcy, meaning he and his client get nothing at all.
- Simple Country Lawyer: All over the place; especially if Ford County is the setting.
- Smug Snake: The wannabe Chessmasters are usually this.
- Spared by the Adaptation: The Brigance family dog, Max, in A Time To Kill.
- Take That: The first few chapter's of "The Testament" are the suicidal Magnificent Bastard Troy Phelan's version of this to his greedy, shiftless, Too Dumb to Live family.
- The "The" Title: Most of his books have one.
- Villainous Breakdown: His status as a villain (as opposed to a pawn) is debatable, but protagonist Clay, by the end of The King Of Torts, has "survived one of the more spectacular breakdowns in the legal profession's history."
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What caused the fire that destroyed Jonathan Lake's office in "The Rainmaker"? The police call it arson and the hero muses that there's something fishy about it, but by the end of the book everybody's forgotten itnote .