John Grisham: Meet the Indisputable King of Legal Thrillers


John Grisham

American Novelist, Attorney, and Politician

John Grisham is an American writer, attorney, and politician who is best known for his legal thrillers. He is the author of several successful thriller novels, such as The Firm, A Time to Kill, and The Runaway Jury, that have been made into blockbuster films. 

Life and Career

John Grisham, born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, is an American writer, attorney, and politician whose legal thriller novels often top bestseller lists. He is the indisputable king of legal thrillers, selling over 300 million books worldwide. Furthermore, Grisham is one of only three authors to sell two million copies on a first printing, the others being J.K. Rowling and Tom Clancy. 

Grisham, the second-oldest of five siblings, was born to Wanda and John Ray Grisham. His mother was a homemaker and his father worked as a cotton farmer and construction worker. His parents were never formally educated; however, they fully encouraged their son to pursue an education. Grisham settled with his parents in Southaven, Mississippi where he spent his younger years. 

John Grisham Education

Grisham pursued several jobs during his teenage years, including being a fence crew and plumber. When he was 17, he managed to work as a highway asphalt crew in Mississippi through one of his father’s contacts. It was during this time that an unfortunate incident got him thinking about college – a fight broke out among the crew and there was gunfire involved; Grisham ran to a nearby restroom to find safety, not coming out until after the police detained the perpetrators. After this incident, he went home and started thinking about college. 

Grisham went through three different colleges before completing a degree. He attended the Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi then switched to Delta State University in Cleveland, before finally getting a B.S. Accounting degree at Mississippi State University in 1977. He later enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law to become a tax lawyer; however, he switched to criminal law instead. 

He received a J.D. degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1981 and went on to practice criminal law for about a decade. He also served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from January 1984 to September 1990.

Writing Career

The incident that inspired Grisham’s debut novel, A Time to Kill, took place years before it was actually written. It was inspired by a trial he observed in 1984; the case was about a 12-year-old who was raped and beaten. Her story intrigued Grisham and he began following the trial. It was then that a story was born. 

Grisham took three years to write his debut novel A Time to Kill which deals with the moral, social, and legal repercussions when a Mississippi black man is tried for the murder of two white men who raped his young daughter. A Time to Kill was initially rejected by 28 publishers, before Grisham finally found Wynwood Press, an unknown publisher, who agreed to publish 5,000 copies. It was published in 1989. 

After leaving politics and closing his law practice, Grisham moved to Oxford, Mississippi with his family so he could concentrate on his writing. His second novel, The Firm was initially rejected by numerous publishers at first; however, a bootleg copy of the manuscript started a bidding war in Hollywood. It was eventually bought by Paramount for more than half a million dollars. The Firm (1991) landed on The New York Times bestseller list for nearly 50 weeks, becoming the top-selling book of the year. The Firm was later adapted into a movie in 1993. A Time to Kill was later picked up as a paperback by Dell Publishing and became a bestseller as well, selling over 3 million copies. 

From there, Grisham went on to write more legal thrillers and produced highly acclaimed works, such as The Client (1993), The Runaway Jury (1996), The Street Lawyer (1998), The Summons (2002), The Broker (2005), The Associate (2009), and The Litigators (2011). From 2001 onwards, Grisham also started writing about other subjects, particularly about his lifelong passion for baseball. He wrote several non-legal books, including A Painted House (2001), Bleachers (2003) and Playing for Pizza (2007).

Grisham wed Renee Jones after graduating from law school and passing the bar exam in 1981. The couple has two children together, Shea and Ty. Today, Grisham continues to write bestselling novels. His family splits their time among their home in Destin, Florida, and a condominium at McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and their Victorian home on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi. 

John Grisham Net Worth

John Grisham is a prolific writer who has a net worth of over $350 million. His books have sold over 300 million copies worldwide. He earns around $50-$80 million each year in book royalties and advances. 

Best John Grisham Books

Grisham has been writing bestseller after bestseller since his first book, A Time to Kill was published in 1988. Since then, he has published 39 more books, including international bestsellers “The Runaway Jury”, “The Client”, “Rogue Lawyer”, and “A Painted House”. Grisham’s books have been translated into 42 languages and have sold over 300 million copies worldwide. 

Here is a list of some of Grisham’s best books. 

  1. A Time to Kill 

    “The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town of Clanton in Ford County, Mississippi, reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes justice into his own outraged hands.

    For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life–and then his own.”
  2. The Firm

    “When Mitch McDeere signed on with Bendini, Lambert & Locke of Memphis, he thought that he and his beautiful wife, Abby, were on their way. The firm leased him a BMW, paid off his school loans, arranged a mortgage, and hired the McDeeres a decorator. Mitch should have remembered what his brother Ray–doing fifteen years in a Tennessee jail–already knew: You never get nothing for nothing. Now the FBI has the lowdown on Mitch’s firm and needs his help. Mitch is caught between a rock and a hard place, with no choice–if he wants to live.”
  3. The Rainmaker

    “It’s summer in Memphis. The sweat is sticking to Rudy Baylor’s shirt and creditors are nipping at his heels. Once he had aspirations of breezing through law school and punching his ticket to the good life. Now he doesn’t have a job or a prayer—except for one: an insurance dispute that leaves a family devastated and opens the door for a lawsuit, if Rudy can find a way to file it.
  4. By the time Rudy gets to court, a heavyweight corporate defense team is there to meet him. And suddenly he’s in over his head, plunged into a nightmare of lies and legal maneuverings. A case that started small is exploding into a thunderous million-dollar war of nerves, skill, and outright violence—a fight that could cost one young lawyer his life, or turn him into the biggest rainmaker in the land.”
  5. The Runaway Jury

    “They are at the center of a multimillion-dollar legal hurricane: twelve men and women who have been investigated, watched, manipulated, and harassed by high-priced lawyers and consultants who will stop at nothing to secure a verdict. Now the jury must make a decision in the most explosive civil trial of the century, a precedent-setting lawsuit against a giant tobacco company. But only a handful of people know the truth: that this jury has a leader, and the verdict belongs to him.
  6. He is known only as Juror #2. But he has a name, a past, and he has planned his every move with the help of a beautiful woman on the outside. Now, while a corporate empire hangs in the balance, while a grieving family waits, and while lawyers are plunged into a battle for their careers, the truth about Juror #2 is about to explode in a cross fire of greed and corruption—and with justice fighting for its life.”
  7. The Testament

    “In a plush Virginia office, a rich, angry old man is furiously rewriting his will. With his death just hours away, Troy Phelan wants to send a message to his children, his ex-wives, and his minions—a message that will touch off a vicious legal battle and transform dozens of lives. Because Troy Phelan’s new will names a sole surprise heir to his eleven-billion-dollar fortune: a mysterious woman named Rachel Lane, a missionary living deep in the jungles of Brazil.

    Enter the lawyers. Nate O’Riley is fresh out of rehab, a disgraced corporate attorney handpicked for his last job: to find Rachel Lane at any cost. As Phelan’s family circles like vultures in D.C., Nate goes crashing through the Brazilian jungle, entering a world where money means nothing, where death is just one misstep away, and where a woman—pursued by enemies and friends alike—holds a stunning surprise of her own.”
  8. The Innocent Man

    “In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the Big Leagues, Ron stumbled, his dreams broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then, on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron’s home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death—in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man’s already broken life, and let a true killer go free.”
  9. The Whistler

    “We expect our judges to be honest and wise. Their integrity is the bedrock of the entire judicial system. We trust them to ensure fair trials, to protect the rights of all litigants, to punish those who do wrong, and to oversee the flow of justice. But what happens when a judge bends the law or takes a bribe?”
  10. Camino Island

    “A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, impossible to resist.

    Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in unsavory ventures.

    Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous monetary offer convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Cable’s circle of literary friends, to get close to the ringleader, to discover his secrets.

    But soon Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise—as only John Grisham can deliver it.”
  11. A Painted House 

    “Until that September of 1952, Luke Chandler had never kept a secret or told a single lie. But in the long, hot summer of his seventh year, two groups of migrant workers — and two very dangerous men — came through the Arkansas Delta to work the Chandler cotton farm. And suddenly mysteries are flooding Luke’s world.

    A brutal murder leaves the town seething in gossip and suspicion. A beautiful young woman ignites forbidden passions. A fatherless baby is born … and someone has begun furtively painting the bare clapboards of the Chandler farmhouse, slowly, painstakingly, bathing the run-down structure in gleaming white. And as young Luke watches the world around him, he unravels secrets that could shatter lives — and change his family and his town forever….”
  12. Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

    “The thrilling young mystery series from internationally bestselling author John Grisham!

    In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he’s only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he’s one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk—and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than expected. Because he knows so much—maybe too much—he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.

    The stakes are high, but Theo won’t stop until justice is served.”

John Grisham Movies (Adaptations) 

Several novels by Grisham have been adapted for film and television, including:

Feature Films

  • The Firm (1993)
  • The Pelican Brief (1993)
  • The Client (1994)
  • A Time to Kill (1996)
  • The Chamber (1996)
  • The Rainmaker (1997)
  • The Gingerbread Man (1998)
  • A Painted House (2003) television film
  • Runaway Jury (2003)
  • Mickey (2004)
  • Christmas with the Kranks (2004)


  • The Client (1995–1996) 1 season, 20 episodes
  • The Street Lawyer (2003) TV pilot
  • The Firm (2011–2012) 1 season, 22 episodes
  • The Innocent Man (2018) 1 season, 6 episodes

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