Hard to believe we've been reading John Grisham for 20 years now. On and off, of course. You miss novels here and there. A book a year — and lately, it can be two a year — is hard to keep up with amid the avalanche of other good books. As prolific as he's been since self-publishing A Time to Kill those many years ago, Grisham has remained solid, pleasing to his fans, and even divergent and experimental in recent years.
His 23rd book, Ford County, has just landed, a collection of stories set in the same locale as A Time to Kill, and among Grisham's other work, overwhelmingly comprised of plot-driven legal thrillers, we believe this is one of his major books. For any who dabble and read him occasionally, or perhaps for those who dismiss him for his commercial success, and certainly for those who've still never read him, this is a book to stop and consider. It reminds us why he's still vital: he has a great knack for getting his hooks into readers and keeping them drawn to the page.
The seven stories in Ford County reflect Grisham's best qualities as a writer while giving fans something new. The characters in these stories are the folks you might find in the supporting cast of his thrillers — bumpkins and rednecks, a washed-up divorce lawyer barely scraping by, a spurned husband set on quiet revenge, victims and quiet sufferers who will never get their day in court. They prove to be as vital and engaging as his crisp, heroic lawyers, and their stories, boiled down to their essences, is delivered with Grisham's dependably lean and brisk plotting.
His fascination with justice (especially for the underdog) is alive and well here, along with his gift for hatching schemes and cover ups that allow his protagonists to evade notice or capture. There is also a fair bit of good humor here, most evident in the opening story, "Blood Drive," about three knuckleheads who head out for Memphis to donate blood for a fallen buddy but can't arrive for their many beer-fueled diversions, which continue to taint their precious donation.
Grisham paid us a customary visit early this week — his fifth as we approach our fourth year — to sign copies of Ford County. He told us the publisher has often bled the humor from his thrillers, so it was particularly fun to craft some of these characters without editorial scrutiny or impending deadlines. He hashed out the stories himself, often over many years (some as old as A Time to Kill), going back to them and revising, perfecting. Often they have a polished, driven touch that even his sleekest thrillers can't match.
He admitted that the stories were so fun to write that he planned to do more. We'll gladly grant him years if they come out this good. Next he returns to the legal thriller, a new one due for holiday release 2010.
We have signed copies of Ford County still available to order. They'll make great Christmas presents, especially for anyone who reads serious Southern literature like Larry Brown and Ron Rash and who might not be expecting such a pleasant surprise as these satisfying tales.