Grisham, John


Grisham, John
▪ 1994

      Perhaps because of Americans' fascination with the alleged illicit activities of lawyers, John Grisham's novels of legal suspense became common fixtures on the New York Times best-seller lists in 1993. Attorney-turned-novelist Grisham accomplished a rare feat in publishing: he completed writing four novels, A Time to Kill (1989), The Firm (1991), The Pelican Brief (1992), and The Client (1993), and had each one reach the New York Times best-seller lists within five years. Thus, Grisham became the fastest-selling writer of modern fiction in history.

      Though often criticized for depicting one-dimensional characters and for formulating implausible plots, Grisham was generally lauded for his fast-paced, adrenaline-charged page-turners. Despite being free of gratuitous sex, violence, and gore, Grisham's novels managed to keep readers on the edge of their seats just by making heroes out of innocent people fighting corrupt government, the underworld, and immoral businessmen.

      John Grisham was born in 1955 in Arkansas but grew up in Southaven, Miss. After he was admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1981, he practiced law and served (1984-89) as a Democrat in the Mississippi state legislature. Then, inspired by a trial he had observed in 1984, Grisham took three years to write his first novel, A Time to Kill, which deals with the legal, social, and moral repercussions when a black man is tried for the murder of two white men who raped his 10-year-old daughter. Despite good reviews for its skillfully crafted dialogue and sense of place, the novel failed to sell. Grisham vowed to "take a naked stab at commercial fiction" with his next novel, The Firm, about a law-school graduate who is seduced into joining a Memphis law firm that turns out to be a front for the Mafia. The film rights were sold to Paramount Pictures Corp. for $600,000, prompting a bidding war for publishing rights, which Doubleday won for $200,000. Within weeks of its release in 1991, the novel appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, where it stayed for nearly a year, allowing Grisham to give up his law practice and move with his family to a 28-ha (70-ac) farm in Oxford, Miss. In the meantime, A Time to Kill was reissued in paperback, and over three million copies were sold.

      Grisham wrote his third novel, The Pelican Brief—about a female law student investigating the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices—in only three months. There were 5.5 million copies of the book in print by March 1993. Film rights to the novel were sold for over $1 million. Grisham's most recent novel, The Client, sacrificed roller-coaster suspense for humour and slapstick energy. Critics almost universally agreed that the plot, dealing with an 11-year-old boy who uncovers a mob-related murder plot, read as though it had been tailor-made for the silver screen. Indeed, the film rights to the novel were sold for $2.5 million, while the novel itself sold 2.6 million copies within 15 weeks.

      (SUSAN RAPP)

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Universalium. 2010.

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