What makes this one of John Grisham’s better novels is the way he works the Bataan Death March into a murder mystery. A year after surviving the horror and returning to his farm, Pete Banning walks into his hometown church and shoots the preacher to death. He refuses to explain why to anyone, even his lawyer, who faces an uphill battle to save Pete from the electric chair.
Grisham, of course, tells law stories better than anyone, and he’s in top form with this courtroom drama set in 1940s Mississippi. Along the way, he explores Deep South farm culture and race relations prior to the civil rights movement.
But it’s his imaginative and fact-based tale of Japanese cruelty to Allied prisoners that stands out. Readers unfamiliar with this event will find it riveting. Drawing quite obviously from the accounts of historians and survivors, Grisham walks Pete through the most infamous American ordeal of the war.
Pete’s subsequent act of murder rocks his family and his community. Though clues and speculation reveal a possible motive, Grisham keeps us guessing until the very end. It’s a five-star story, but I’m knocking off one star due to occasional foul language, which is uncharacteristic of this author’s other fine works.