Do you know how many John Grisham books have been made into major motion pictures?
A staggering 9! And there have been even more bestselling novels, coming in at 28 in total. But even more have been published, coming in at 51.
Of course, Grisham is best known for his taut legal thrillers, which make up the large majority of his published works.
But with so many great options to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why I’ve put together this article explaining how some of his best novels start off, and going through the pros and cons of each. Here goes!
A Time To Kill
This powerful story takes place many decades ago in the deep South, at a place and time when racial segregation and distrust were at levels we simply cannot fathom today.
In a predominantly white town, a ten-year-old girl who happens to be black is shot dead by two white men, and in his shocked grief-stricken state, the father grabs a rifle, and takes the law into his own hands against those evil white men.
Jake Brigance is the father’s defense attorney, but in addition to representing the father, Brigance also has to protect the father’s life and also his own.
- This is the book that made John Grisham famous
- Vivid depictions that take the reader decades back in time
- If you like this book, the story continues with the next 2 books in Grisham’s Jake Brigance series
- Deals with sensitive issues (racial violence) that may upset some readers
This was the first of Grisham’s books to be made into a movie, where Tom Cruise plays a hot shot lawyer, Mitch, who lands his dream job. At least he thought it was his dream job until…
Mitch soon discovers that there’s an FBI investigation going on concerning the firm’s connection to the Mafia, which plunges Mitch into very real danger.
The only way Mitch can survive this death trap is to pit his wits and legal ability against the firm.
- Compelling writing from the impressive, and somewhat creepy beginning right the way through to the explosive finale
- Plenty of twists and turns, and excellent character development and progression
- It’s quite a long book at over 500 pages
The Pelican Brief
Grisham’s book The Pelican Brief was made into a film, released in 1996, starring the likes of Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington.
It tells the story of law student Darby Shaw, who delves into a case where 2 murders may just be related to the assassination of two Supreme Court justices.
During her investigation, Shaw finds herself witness to a murder – one intended for her. Shaw tries to get to the bottom of this cover-up by the White House, while also on the run from someone who wants her head.
- It’s not just a legal and action thriller – it’s also a political thriller as well
- Many say this is Grisham at his finest, with tension you can cut with a knife
- The book ending is different from the movie, so even if you’ve seen the movie, you may still be surprised by the book
- Some of the writing is slow in places
In this blockbuster of a novel, also made into a major motion picture, Grisham weaves together an edge-of-your-seat tale weaving corporate greed and Grisham’s classic courtroom drama.
Rudy Baylor is a young attorney with zero clients in desperate need of cash. He becomes an underdog, championing a cause where an insurance dispute against a big corporation leaves a family devastated.
Decidedly in over his head, in a whirlwind of lies and loopholes, Rudy must hold his nerve, use all his skill to fight for what could make him the biggest financial rainmaker in the country.
- A taut tale with a fast pace, known to have readers ripping through the pages
- Charming central character who readers will empathize with
- Believable portrayal of bias in the courtroom
- Some readers see the romantic subplot as an unnecessary distraction
The Last Juror
Despite the book’s title, this one is somewhat of a departure from Grisham’s more typical legal thrillers…
Following a horrible rape and murder of a young mother in 1970 Mississippi, Wille, a college dropped, Wille Traynor, finds himself running a newspaper and reporting all the gory details.
As a result, by the time the trial starts, there is a packed courtroom and the public already has it in for the defendant. So it’s no surprise that the murderer gets sentenced to life.
However, nine years later, the murder gets out and is eager for his retribution on the jurors, including Willie’s love interest, Miss Callie.
- An atmospheric thriller, taut with suspense, and compulsively readable
- Readers become invested in the story of likable Wille Traynor
- Excellent portrayal of believable characters and small town life
- Courtroom theatrics take a backseat in this novel
The Runaway Jury
So good, they just had to make it into a major motion picture. Grisham’s Runaway jury tells the tale of the most explosive, precedent-setting civil trial in a hundred years…
Four of the largest tobacco manufacturers versus the widow of a man who died of lung cancer due to 30 years of smoking.
With millions of dollars hanging in the balance, and high-priced lawyers determined to do whatever it takes to get the verdict they want, the 12 men and women of the jury are watched, harassed and manipulated.
But the story centers around Juror number two, a man who’s every move has been plotted by a beautiful woman on the outside.
With justice itself at stake, will the real truth about Juror number two come out? And can justice survive in such a hurricane of greed and corruption?
- Without a doubt, one of Grisham’s most addictive courtroom thrillers!
- The twists and turns just keep on coming – completely unpredictable
- You just have to keep turning the pages for the big reveal at the end!
- Can be hard to keep tabs on so many characters
- It’s quite a long book, consisting of over 550 pages
This gripping tale begins when the very rich Troy Phelan decides to rewrite his will, regarding an eleven million dollar inheritance, before plunging from his 14th floor penthouse.
It turns out that he has handed everything over to some mysterious woman called Rachel Lane.
Phelan’s family don’t know what’s hit them and decide to track down this woman through the disgraced corporate attorney Nate O’Riley.
The mystery takes Nate into the Brazilian jungle of all places, where he has to overcome all kinds of obstacles, and the elusive Rachel Lane appears to have enemies and friends galore intent to find her.
And you just have to keep on reading for the final shocking twist at the end!
- Grisham does not disappoint – lots of engaging minor characters and subplots
- With all the ensuing twists and turns, you will struggle to put the book down
- Superb character representation and portrayal, matched only by the amazing character development
- Some readers may dislike the undeniable religious undertones
This is the nail-biting tale of Patrick Lanigan, a greedy partner in a thriving law firm, who stole a staggering 90 million dollars from the firm, faked his own death and ran, becoming the most reviled white-collar criminal of his time.
Four years later, he’s finally been tracked down, and returns to Mississippi for an extraordinary trial.
There are rich and powerful men as enemies, ready for revenge, their lawyers hounding him for the trial. But there’s a twist they don’t see coming…
Patrick has something up his sleeve – the key to a secret truth that only he knows.
- A gripping tale from start to finish, a great plot, expertly woven
- Entertaining subplots and peripheral characters scattered throughout
- Immersive scene description and exceptional character development
- A lot of readers didn’t like the ending
I’s 1998 in east Texas, and Travis Boyette has just got clean away with abducting, raping and strangling a popular high school cheerleader.
Donte Drumm has been found guilty instead, and just days away from his execution, Travis finally decides to do the right thing for once and turn himself in.
But, just how is he supposed to convince everybody that they’ve got the wrong guy? Not to mention doing so before the execution goes ahead!
- Breathtaking tension, and well-paced with plenty of twists and turns
- Opens reader minds to just how lacking the criminal justice system can be
- One of Grisham’s more thought-provoking novels
- Some readers have described this one as blatantly political
A Time For Mercy
Here, we get to meet the defense attorney Jack Brigance all over again, but this time for a very different case.
He’s assigned to defend the case of a timid 16-year-old accused of the murder of a deputy.
The community are understandably outraged at the crime and begin calling for not only a swift trial, but also the full force of the law, which in this case means the death penalty.
Brigance is fiercely determined that such a fate should come for this young man, especially when there is so much more to the story.
In fact, he ends up putting everything on the line – even the safety of his nearest and dearest!
- Possibly one of Grisham’s most accomplished works, and one of the most powerful
- Characters that leap off the page, with small town life combined with courthouse drama
- This story has so much wit and heart, and twists you will not see coming!
- This is part of a trilogy, and if you want to read them in chronological order, you should start with A Time To Kill, followed by Sycamore Road
Looking for a legal thriller that’s gonna grab you from the get-go?
So good it was turned into a movie, this is a story where, through a chance encounter, an 11-year-old Mark witnesses the suicide of a mafia lawyer. But not without first being clued on the whereabouts of the most sought after dead body in the country!
But the legal system appears to be in ill repair, and the prosecutors are willing to do everything it takes to make Mark spill the details, including blatant rule breaking.
Mark’s only ally in all of this is Reggie, who’s been a lawyer for only 4 years. And of course, the mob will stop at nothing either.
Desperate to protect Mark, Reggie makes an incredibly high stakes gamble that could cost both of them their lives.
- Interesting characters and relationships between the characters
- A compelling mystery, that keeps readers in suspense right to the very end
- Not just a legal thriller, but also features significant humor and warmth
- It’s not so much a legal thriller as a thriller with legal elements
The Street Lawyer
Following a hostage situation in his law firm’s offices that ended in bloodshed, Michael Brock decides to turn over a new leaf, fighting for justice for the real underdogs – the homeless.
Brock goes from riches to rags in his quest for satisfaction that money just can’t buy, to find dignity in the law.
And this time, Michael’s enemy is his old law firm itself. With a confidential file that Michael gets his hands on, Michael can unlock the details of a shady conspiracy and become the most dangerous man on the streets.
- Provides valuable insight to the plight of the homeless and the marginalized
- Readers love the growth and development of the main character
- Engrossing tale that packs a powerful, meaningful punch
- Some readers have described the books as too left-wing and political
Now, this is a legal thriller with a difference!
Grisham’s central character, Sebastian Rudd, is not your typical lawyer – he carries a gun and his office is basically a customized, bulletproof van with Wi-Fi, leather chairs, and even a bar.
Meanwhile, his driver also serves as his bodyguard, clerk, and even his golf caddie!
It is his fervent belief that everyone is entitled to a fair trial, including those who other lawyers just won’t go near, whether they’ve shot a member of a SWAT team, or are a vicious crime lord on death row, or a drugged up kid said to be part of a satanic cult.
- Rudd is Grisham’s most outrageous and colorful main character of all time
- One of Grisham’s more inventive, imaginative and entertaining novels
- Demonstrates the true value of “innocent until proven guilty”
- Shows that justice can prevail for those who cannot buy influence
- It feels more like a series of short stories rather than a traditional one-story novel
Another winning bestseller, this novel tells the tale of three disgraced former judges who find themselves doing time in federal prison.
Together they call themselves the Brethren, and they meet every day, usually in the prison library, sometimes to reminisce, sometimes to dispense jailhouse justice, and crucially, figuring out how to get rich fast.
They begin with developing a scam to blackmail wealthy closeted gay men. And this time they’ve got their eyes on the millions being spent on a presidential election campaign.
- Excellent depiction of some rather complex characters
- Plenty of intrigue, suspense, and an insightful glimpse into human fallibility
- Unexpected twists and turns throughout
- May leave you wondering what’s next for the three judges
- There aren’t really any good guys to root for in this book, and there doesn’t appear to be any overarching moral of the story for the reader
This tense political thriller centers around Joel Backman, who is a notorious Washington power broker locked away in a federal prison.
All of a sudden, an outgoing president grants him a highly controversial last minute pardon. He then gets out of the country to start a new life in Italy with a new identity.
That’s not the end of the story, however – it turns out that Backman has obtained state secrets that compromise the satellite surveillance system.
And when his whereabouts are leaked by the CIA, he is sought after by the Chinese, the Russians, the Saudis, and the Israelis.
The CIA needs him dead – but who will do it?
- It’s still in the online retailer bestseller charts to this day
- A fun, fast-paced read that will keep you guessing
- A nice focus on Italian life, language, cuisine and culture
- More of a political thriller than a legal thriller
- Some readers have found certain sections tedious
If you ever fancy a change from Grisham’s well written legal thrillers, then how about this for a refreshing change?
Penned by Grisham, this book takes a hilarious look at our holiday traditions. Couple Luther and Nora have decided one year not to bother with Christmas.
They don’t have their traditional Christmas Eve bash, and they don’t even bother with a Christmas tree. Instead, they plan on a luxury Caribbean cruise.
However, they soon discover that skipping Christmas is not easy, and they are completely unprepared for the consequences.
- A quick read – it’s about half the length of a typical John Grisham book
- Such a well-loved story that it was made into a move, Christmas with the Kranks
- Very lively and entertaining, and at the same time very heart warming as well
- In a change of genre for the author, this is not a legal or political thriller
The hero in this story is the very likable Lacy Stoltz who is an investigator of judicial misconduct.
After 9 years on the job however, she rarely comes across a case of genuine corruption, it’s usually mere incompetence. That is, until now…
A whistleblower, who is represented by a previously disbarred lawyer, claims that one particular judge has stolen more money than all other crooked judges combined in an elaborate conspiracy.
When Lacy receives the case, she is rightly suspicious that this case could be not only dangerous, but deadly.
- It remains in the online retailer bestseller charts in the category of legal thrillers to this day
- Exposes the vulnerabilities of the justice system, and dramatizes its abuse
- Comes highly recommended and is genuinely very hard to put down
- It starts rather slow before it begins to accelerate rapidly
This novel depicts the story of two ambulance chaser law firm partners Finley and Fog in downtown Chicago, who smell money for a class action lawsuit they can bring against the pharmaceutical giant Varrick Labs, alleging that their most popular drug, Krayoxx, can cause heart attacks.
The central character is David Zinc, an elite lawyer and Harvard Law graduate who ends up taking a job at Finley and Fog. And he finds himself up against the very law firm that he had just left.
- Great character development as Zinc acquires valuable street smarts
- One of Grisham’s most realistic and believable storylines
- Shallow characters that you love to hate
- You have to read quite a lot of pages before the story gets really interesting
A sequel to A Time To Kill, this story features the same attorney, known as Jack Brigance, who is one of Grisham’s most developed and engaging characters.
It begins with the suicide of a wealthy, but cancer ridden man, who had just written a brand new will leaving all of his multi-million dollar estate to his maid. And, as you may imagine, his adult children take issue with it.
Brigance is tasked with answering so many questions that have arisen, such as whether or not his various therapies had played with his mind, why did he leave everything to his maid, and what’s all this about a piece of land formerly referred to as Sycamore Row?
- Expert storytelling right the way up to the strong and moving ending
- Grisham draws the reader in from the very first page
- This is part of a trilogy, and if you want to read them in chronological order, you should start with A Time To Kill
- The story is told over the course of over 700 pages
John Grisham is a masterful storyteller, and few of his books will ever disappoint. He has certainly set the standard when it comes to legal thrillers, setting the bar very high indeed.
Grisham adds all kinds of elements to his novels that you don’t always see in courtroom dramas, such as judges doing time in prison plotting a scam, like in The Brethren, or the Robin Hood of defense law with his strange set-up in his bulletproof van, like in The Rogue Lawyer.
Another popular variation of Grisham’s legal thrillers are ones that also have a strong political element, such as The Pelican Brief, and The Broker.
And while Grisham’s books are typically much longer to read than so many other novels, there’s always plenty of suspense, accompanied by plenty of twists and turns along the way to an unexpected and shocking end.
The time invested in reading the books is 100% worth it.
And I can confirm that the books make for a much richer experience than the movies do.
How To Choose The Perfect John Grisham Book
Have You Already Seen The Movies?
Most people will agree that novels have a lot more depth to them than movies do, and will say that the book is always better.
That said, if you have already seen the movie version of a book, then the book is sure to lose its impact.
So, what I’d say is that if you saw the movie and loved it, then go ahead and read the book. But if you prefer the power of a story that’s completely new to you, choose a book that you don’t already know the plot to.
Do You Want To Start A Series Of Books, Or Just One Or Two Standalone Novels?
The most popular John Grisham books are the standalones, and most of them are standalones.
If, however, you’d like to treat yourself to a whole series of John Grisham books, then your options are the Theodore Boone Series, the Jake Brigance series, and the Camino series. All of which I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many John Grisham Books Are Best Sellers?
John Grisham is known to have written 28 bestsellers.
What Should I Read If I Like John Grisham?
The best thing to read if you like John Grisham is more John Grisham! And your next best options are anything by Steven Cavanagh, Robert Bailey or Gillian McAllister.
- 20 Must-Read Genre-Blending Literary Fiction Books - May 26, 2023
- 32 Gripping Epic Fantasy Books To Transport You To Another World - May 26, 2023
- 12 Books Like Red, White, And Royal Blue You Will Love - May 17, 2023