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Creator / John Grisham

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"I can't change overnight into a serious literary author. You can't compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not."

John Ray Grisham, Jr. (born February 8, 1955) is a former attorney turned writer, who decided to write suspense stories involving the legal profession.

After a tepid response to his first novel, A Time to Kill, he achieved national recognition for his sophomore effort, 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 written what he knows.

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.

Novels by John Grisham with their own pages include:

Film adaptations of Grisham novels with their own pages include:


Other novels by John Grisham contain examples of:

  • Ambulance Chaser:
    • The Rooster Bar deals with DUI lawyers who hustle for cases in the waiting room.
    • The Litigators: The eponymous partners of Finley and Figg chase injury cases constantly. Figg is noted to eat lunch in hospital cafeterias to look for prospective clients.
  • Amoral Attorney: Patton French, a tort lawyer who appears in several of Grisham's novels, serves to embody everything Grisham hates about the American tort system, getting rich off of other peoples' medical misery while screwing his clients. His appearance in The King of Torts, giving aspiring tort lawyers advice on how to wring the most money out of their clients, leaves the protagonist feeling like he needs to take a shower.
  • Author Tract:
    • 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 Runaway Jury seems like a massive Take That! against the tobacco industry (in the novel) and the gun manufacturers (in the film).
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Appeal. The small town lawyers are rendered bankrupt, the sympathetic banker loses everything, the chemical company that ruined the town's water supply and the lives of those "trailer park peasants" within its limits walks free with zero punishment, and the Corrupt Corporate Executive (and primary stockholder) Carl Trudeau becomes even wealthier then before (the final chapter ends with him wanting to make even more).
  • 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.
  • Burying a Substitute: A variation shows up in The Partner, where the main character buries 4 cinder blocks because he needs the corpse of the guy who died in order to fake his own death.
  • Character Overlap: Characters like Reuben V. Atlee, Patton French and Harry Rex Vonner have appeared in multiple novels.
  • Code Silver: The plot of The Street Lawyer kicks off when a homeless man breaks into the posh law firm where the protagonist works, and takes him and a few of his coworkers hostage for about six hours.
  • Courtroom Antic:
    • Normally averted. Unlike most legal-related fiction, Grisham's courtroom proceedings tend to be pretty low-key and realistic. The drama and antics occur outside the courtroom.
    • Played straight in the prison court in The Brethren, but it's expected - it's a half-serious joke court for cases between convicts, who are usually not the smartest or most legally adept. The judges don't like the antics, but the worst you're likely to get is an admonition to watch your language.
  • Creator Thumbprint: You'll notice a lot of his titles are "The [Something, likely a legal term]".
  • Downer Ending:
    • The Partner. Patrick has successfully orchestrated getting off completely scott free for everything that he did in the course of stealing the money, but Eva and the money are both gone and Patrick is left completely broke and alone - it is left ambiguous whether Eva simply abandoned him and ran off with the money or whether she was kidnapped and 'disappeared' by any of the various unsavory characters and companies after the money. Either way, Patrick is completely screwed.
    • The Appeal. The small town lawyers are rendered bankrupt, the sympathetic banker loses everything, the evil company that ruined the town's water supply and the lives of those "trailer park peasants" within its limits walks free with zero punishment, and the Corrupt Corporate Executive Carl Trudeau becomes even wealthier then before (the book ends with him wanting to make even more).
  • Down to the Last Play: Playing for Pizza opens with the main character, a journeyman third string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, blowing a colossal lead in the AFC Championship Game and being knocked unconscious, costing his team a chance at the Super Bowl. He's so disgraced he has to play in Italy.
  • Elvis Impersonator: In The Firm, Tammy Hemphill's truck driver ex-husband actually believes he's Elvis come back to life. He even changed his name to Elvis Aaron Hemphill and moved the family to Memphis (the main setting of the story) so he could be closer to Graceland.
  • 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.
  • Follow in My Footsteps: In The Appeal, F. Clyde Hardin finds himself forced into this position after his father, an enthusiastic and highly skilled trial lawyer, died. The son is neither enthusiastic nor highly skilled.
  • Food Porn: The book "Playing for Pizza" has quite some detailed descriptions of the Italian cuisine virtually all the characters in the novel are head over heels in love with
  • Genre Adultery: Only five of Grisham's novels aren't legal thrillers; they include Skipping Christmas (which was later adapted as Christmas with the Kranks); A Painted House, a coming-of-age story in Depression-era Arkansas; Calico Joe, about rookie baseball star Joe Castle and the events that cut short his career; and Playing for Pizza, which is about football.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Brethren makes reference early on to one Natli Chenkov, a Russian politician and Communist hardliner who is suspected of planning to stage a coup and start a war the director of the CIA doubts America can win. The main action of the book involves the CIA director's underhanded plan to block Chenkov's ambitions, and the domestic fallout from that; Chenkov himself is hardly mentioned after the initial explanation.
  • Honey Trap:
    • In The Firm, the crooked law firm that employs the protagonist hires a prostitute tto seduce him and record it so they'll have something to hold over him if he becomes a problem.
    • The Brethren has the homosexual blackmail version; three small-time scammers accidentally hook a man the CIA is vetting to become a Presidential candidate.
  • Human-Interest Story: These are at the core of The Last Juror. It was a story on a black family that boasted five college graduates that made the newspaper profitable, and, by the end of the book, the protagonist had done such a story on every person in town.
  • 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.
  • It Gets Easier: In A Time to Kill, the guy who kills the two guys who raped his kid daughter thinks that it was harder to kill the first Viet Cong fighter.
  • 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. Carl Trudeau gets away with having carcinogens dumped into the water supply of a poor Mississippi town, rigging a judicial election to avoid having to pay damages for said dumping, bankrupting the main characters, and purposefully running his company into the ground so he can buy the stock while it's dirt cheap and then make billions when the lawsuits for the illegal dumping are dismissed and the stock rises in value. The novel ends with him being worth $3 billion, and contemplating how to make it into $6 billion.
  • 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.
  • The Mafia:
    • In The Client, mafia members play a large part.
    • The Firm: The titular firm is secretly in bed with the Mafia.
  • Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy: The Firm has its protagonist uncover that the seemingly amazing law firm he works for is actually a front for the mob, and that they kill anyone who either gets to close to the truth, or who learns it and doesn't want to become a partner, and therefore be in on The Conspiracy. The Firm conducts Sinister Surveillance on its employees, wiring their cars, homes, and telephones and monitoring their lives closely. When they do kill people, they tend to Make It Look Like an Accident.
  • 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?
  • Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: "Playing for Pizza" makes it abundantly clear that the protagonist is not a great Quarterback. He's still good enough for the Italian league...
  • 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!"
  • Omniglot: In The Firm, Mitchell's brother, Ray, has a natural affinity for languages, and is using the immense free time he has in prison to learn several new ones.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: One of the migrant Mexican farmworkers in A Painted House is known as Cowboy because he wears a cowboy hat all the time. He turns out to be a very important and very nasty character, but we never learn his real name.
  • Papa Wolf: Carl Lee Hailey in A Time to Kill. After a brutal first chapter detailing the rape of his 10-year-old daughter by a couple of rednecks, Hailey goes berserk on the two and opens fire on them with an assault rifle (even though they were already on trial), catching a court deputy in the process. The deputy forgives him, as does the jury when they acquit him of murder charges by reason of "temporary insanity."
  • The Pardon:
    • A presidential pardon starts off the plot of The Broker.
    • In The Brethren the protagonists are inmates in a federal prison who find themselves in possession of blackmail material that might get them all killed or might get them a presidential pardon.
    • In The Firm, one of Mitch McDeere's conditions for helping the FBI include getting his brother pardoned.
  • Parent ex Machina: Theo's parents in the Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer series.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance:
    • The plot of The Testament kicks off when a filthy rich businessman passes over his Dysfunction Junction Inadequate Inheritor family, and leaves his vast fortune to his previously unknown illegitimate daughter, a missionary in a remote area of Brazil.
    • The plot of Sycamore Row is driven by the suicide of Seth Hubbard, and the hand-written will he prepared just before killing himself that cut his entire family out of his estate in favor of his housekeeper.
  • 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 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Bleachers has Neely's old high school flame doing this to the entire town (though only Neely hears it) about how obsessed they are with football, such as having prayer breakfasts on Fridays, putting so much local pride in winning so many games, and even reacting to a kid dying of heat stroke during tryouts (one of the multiple controversies that eventually forced the football coach to retire) with accusing him of "not being tough enough".
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: In The Appeal, the main stockholder for a NYC chemical plant is looking to reverse a $41 million judgement. The head of a shadowy Florida firm tells him he can buy a seat on the bench of the state Supreme Court for a cool $8 million, only $1 million of which is actually recorded. Let the chess match begin.
  • Spiteful Will: Troy Phelan's will in The Testament is set up as a massive "Screw you!" to his multiple Gold Digger ex-wives and heirs, ensuring that all of them (except his illegitimate daughter, the only one he actually cares for) get a much smaller share of his wealth than they were expecting and none of them will be able to contest it.
  • Thanatos Gambit: In The Testament, the terminally ill Troy Phelan commits suicide and screws his family (whom he hates) out of his $11 billion fortune, giving it all to an illegitimate daughter instead. The kicker is that before his death, he fooled his own family into thinking he had signed a (fake) will that evenly distributed his assets, and even had a team of top-notch doctors examine him and declare him mentally competent. After his death, the doctors' testimony made it next to impossible for his family to legally challenge his will. Not only that, but he tricked his family into digging themselves into debt, since they were expecting a free cash handout after he died.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: In The Testament, Troy Phelan's long-lost daughter Rachel Lane, a beautiful, saintly missionary (and the only relative he can remotely stand), dies of dengue fever and malaria in the penultimate chapter.
  • Verbing Nouny: Skipping Christmas.
  • 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."


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