Characters, Plot, and Popularity
Research Presentation by
Who is John Grisham?
John Grisham gained success writing legal
thrillers, some based loosely on his life as a
lawyer, while others are strictly non-fiction
works by the author.
Some of his most famous works include:
The Firm (1991,) The Pelican Brief (1992,)
The Client (1993,) The Rainmaker (1995,)
The Runaway Jury (1996,) The King of Torts
(2003,) and The Appeal (2008).
What are critics saying?
According to Pringle (2003,) “though legal
thrillers are his forte, he ranges widely within
and sometimes beyond the genre, telling
stories that are close to his heart.”
This research includes four literary analysts’
views of Grisham’s various works including
characters, setting, plot development, and
impact on the body of literary works.
What Rubin says…
Grisham is the “Mississippi attorney who
almost single-handedly created the pop
literary genre known as the legal thriller.”
Grisham presents a “romanticized,
glamorized depiction of the law.”
Grisham’s plots are elaborate, but lack real
substance or purpose.
Rubin wraps it up…
She concludes her analysis with a note to
lawyers by saying, they “might do well to
throw away their boilerplate list of questions
(Will you treat a rich company fairly?) and
focus on basic query … How many John
Grisham novels have you read?”
What Breen says…
John Grisham is one of the first “lawyer
Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill (1989,)
was “superior to all of its successors.”
A Time to Kill is “representative of the new
style of legal novel, but is one of the classics
of courtroom fiction from any period.”
Breen brings it home…
Grisham’s novels are better suited to
screenplays than to novels.
What Brill Says…
There are few differences within Grisham’s
Grisham writes flat characters and fast-paced
Grisham “overwrites” his plots.
Brill breaks it down…
“Grisham’s grace in constructing a
sophisticated story is so poorly matched by
What Pringle says…
Pringle wrote about Grisham’s work twice-
John Grisham: A Critical Companion
Revisiting John Grisham: A Critical Companion
Each novel has a hero attorney, a government
agency asking the hero for help and an unlikely
ally for the hero.
What Pringle says…
Characters “take a backseat to plot”
A Time to Kill, according to Pringle, has the most
realistic character in Jake Brigance. As many
reviewers and Grisham say, Brigance is the most
autobiographical of all his characters. In an author’s
note, Grisham says:
Jake and I are the same age. I played quarterback
in high school, though not very well. Much of what
he says and does is what I think I would say and do
under the circumstances. … We’ve both lost sleep
over our clients and vomited in courthouse
restrooms. (“A Time to Kill” xi- xii)
What Pringle says…
Grisham’s plot development follows the
pattern of most suspense thrillers.
The structure includes an introduction, rising
action, climax, falling action, and catastrophe.
The primary force behind the story is good
versus evil. This is found in nearly every
Pringle’s ponderings end…
“Bleachers ranks between A Painted House
and Skipping Christmas. … it lacks to beauty
and earnest effort at characterization offered
up in A Painted House, but is … more
substantial than Skipping Christmas.”
Wrapping it up…
Average Americans Read Grisham
Breen, Jon. “The Legal Crime Novel.”
Mystery and Suspense Writers: The
Literature of Crime, Detection, and
Espionage. Ed. Robin Winks. New York:
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998.
Brill, Steven. “Uncivil Action.” The New York
Times Book Review 30 March 2008: 5-9.
Pringle, Mary Beth. John Grisham: A Literary
Companion. Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
---. Revisiting John Grisham: A Critical
Rubin, Jennifer. “John Grisham’s Law: the
social and economic impact of a pop
novelist.” Commentary. 127. 6 (June 2009): p
56 Literature Resources from Gale. Gale.
TROY UNIV. 29 June 2009