‘The Reckoning’ a mystery with history

January 10, 2019

“The Reckoning” by John Grisham is one part murder mystery, one part World War II thriller, and one part courtroom drama. I haven’t read Grisham much lately, so I decided to get back on track by reading this one. I’m glad I picked it up from the Cabell County Public Library.

The novel is excellent, as are all the Grisham novels I’ve ever read, and historically accurate as far as I can tell. Surely, there is no need for me to tell you about John Grisham, except to reiterate that he is one of the most prolific as well as one of the best-selling authors in the world.

It’s 1946 in Ford County, Mississippi (Grisham’s fictional setting for several of his novels, including this one) and local WW II war hero Pete Banning enters the Clanton Methodist Church where he calmly and methodically shoots the church pastor, Rev. Dexter Bell, three times at point blank range.

Banning then sends the church custodian to find the local sheriff. Pete is taken into custody and during his subsequent murder trial he offers absolutely no reason why he murdered his pastor.

Could Rev. Bell’s murder have anything to do with Pete’s recent commitment of his wife Liza to the state mental institution? Could the murder have anything to do with Pete having earlier deeded his property to his two children, Joel and Stella? Could it have anything to do with all the hardships Pete experienced as a POW of the Japanese during the war?

The WWII thriller is a flashback to 1925, when Pete graduated from West Point, marrying Liza in the process, having two children, and subsequently returning home to Ford County to manage the family cotton plantation.

When Pearl Harbor is attacked, Pete is activated from his reserve status and promptly sent to the Philippines. After the war Pete returns home a hero, having survived the Bataan Death March as well as being a Japanese POW. In addition, Pete manages to escape a POW camp and he then fights with a guerrilla band of Filipinos for the remainder of the war. He comes home physically damaged and also a war hero!

The courtroom drama surrounding Pete’s trial for murder as well as the aftermath, takes up the beginning part of the novel as well as the last chapters. The WW II part is neatly sandwiched in between. If I go into any more detail, I’ll reveal more of the plot and I don’t want to do that.

If you like John Grisham novels, then you’ll love this one. If you’ve never read Grisham (which is hard for me to imagine) then this book is a great place to start. I highly recommend “The Reckoning.”

Bill Patton is an avid reader and Friend of the Cabell County Library.

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