Making a move that is guaranteed to delight his fans, John Grisham returns to form with his first legal thriller in three years, The Appeal.
The novel finds Grisham in familiar territory—the courtroom—but it begins in an unconventional way: with the end. When the verdict is announced in the novel's first chapter, readers are immediately thrown into the case and the controversy that surrounds it. The husband-and-wife legal team of Wes and Mary Grace Payton is representing Jeannette Baker in an effort to prove that her son and husband died as a result of contaminated water. On the other side of this battle is the chemical company accused of dumping toxic waste into the water supply. After a protracted trial and agonizing deliberations, the jury finally delivers its verdict. The chemical company appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, though lawyers don't anticipate a favorable outcome. Enter Wall Street billionaire and chemical company owner Carl Trudeau, who purchases a court seat with pocket change—a few million dollars. The fate of the case is left up to the nine state Supreme Court justices, one of whom is ensnared in conspiracy. The judicial system may never be viewed in quite the same way again.
Grisham's literary dynasty and avid fan following have been built on his remarkable ability to produce a blockbuster novel every year, nine of which have been turned into feature films. Beginning with 1991's The Firm, his second novel and first big success, Grisham established his place in thriller history by writing suspenseful tales about the judicial system. Fans have come to expect frequent twists and turns that leave them on the edge of their armchairs.
Though Grisham has made successful detours from this formula recently, with the comic novel Playing for Pizza and his first nonfiction work, The Innocent Man, his return to the legal fiction realm is an event long anticipated by both avid readers and Grisham himself. "I still enjoy writing the legal thrillers," Grisham has said of his latest book, "and don't plan to get too far away from them. Obviously, they have been very good to me, and they remain popular. I plan to write one a year for the next several years." Grisham, who turns 53 this month, has more than 225 million books in print worldwide, and his work has been translated into 29 languages. A decade ago, Publishers Weekly estimated that Grisham's earnings had made him a billion-dollar man. Not bad for someone who began writing as a hobby. The Arkansas native and Ole Miss-educated author's pastime evolved into a career—though only 5,000 initial copies were printed of his 1988 debut A Time to Kill, which took him three years to write—after years of practicing law. His detailed mastery of the legal genre, which focuses on lawyers and their associates, is due in part to his personal understanding of the legal system.
Grisham's most recent appearance in a courtroom came in 1996, when he honored a long-standing commitment to represent the family of a railroad brakeman killed in an accident. A jury awarded the family more than $600,000 in the case. Grisham, who served in the Mississippi legislature during the 1980s, retains a keen interest in politics (he hosted an early fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in 2007) but says he has no intention of running for office again. "I enjoy watching and participating in politics from the sidelines, but it's best to keep some distance," he says.
Bookstore patrons and moviegoers may find it difficult to keep their distance from the nonstop writer—and who'd want to?—but there is little risk of a complete Grisham overload: Though his work can be found on the bookshelves and the big screen, don't expect to catch him pitching Gillette razors while you're flipping channels. The intensely private author continues to refuse offers of personal appearances and sponsorship, and he seems to live a tranquil life. He and his family divide their time between a home in Mississippi and a plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, remaining largely out of the public eye. This eagerly anticipated return to the genre that made Grisham a household name is another page-turning installment from start to finish. A verdict has been reached: The people are craving another Grisham legal thriller.