Picture of Book

Text Box with description of Book

    I fell in love with John Grisham's books after I read The Testament, which someone gave me. When I began shopping at the Goodwill stores' bookshelves, I found that he was one of the most abundant authors, and so I have immensely expanded my Grisham library at very small cost. I now own twenty-three, about half of what he's written. This is the fourth that I've read. One more and he will qualify for his own Index Page, and provided we are still alive on this planet in the next few months, that page will be created.
    I have loved all his books I've read, but this one really blew me away for so many reasons. I am still quite reeling from it, as it has left me with a very uncomfortable feeling, which is not a criticism, but confirmation of its power. Written in 2018, making it one of the most recent works I've read (as I tend to read more classics and works that have been around a while), it was set in the 1940s, beginning in 1946, then flashing back to the twenties. It ends in 1950. I am usually hesitant to tell much about murder-mysteries in my reviews, and with this one I will be even more cautious.
    John Grisham was born the same year as I was, 1955, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, but the family moved to Southaven, Mississippi, in the extreme northwest part of the state, near Memphis, Tennessee. He got his JD (Juris Doctor, or Doctor of Law) at the University of Mississippi Law School. The University is also known as "Ole Miss," and is associated with the great author William Faulkner. All of these play a part in this novel (and quite a few others). The fictional town of Clanton, in the fictional Ford County recur in other Grisham novels, and in this one, Ole Miss plays a role, where the main character's son gets to meet William Faulkner. Memphis also plays an important role, as it is where the main character meets his future wife.
    This novel is different than the other Grisham books I've read, and granted, it's not that many yet, and one of the others was non-fictional. In the two novels, Grisham pokes fun at the legal profession and exaggerates the corruption within it. In the non-fictional book, the legal corruption was real and dead serious. I think I would like him as a person, as he seems committed to fight for moral standards in real life. Especially well-known is his support of the Innocence Project. He is against capital punishment, and has fought to have the inset of the Mississippi flag containing the Confederate flag removed. He is also obviously supportive of equal rights for all people and against racism, which is still prevalent in the south, and everywhere now, it seems. We are truly devolving. This actually is not obvious until the end of the story, when we learn the whole, shocking truth. And I promise I will not go that far to give anyone clues. But I will say this, and I hope it's not too much. The "shocking truth" that is revealed would probably not shock most people here in 2021. Perhaps that is what makes this story so very disturbing and unable to second-guess.
    Anyways, in this novel there is very little humor, and also very little room for legal corruption, as it is obvious who committed the crime. This is not the first time Grisham used a real case for inspiration. It is not until the Author's Note at the end of the book that he mentions what he calls his "wasted time" as a state representative in the Mississippi Legislature, and the hours spent swapping stories, or perhaps tall tales, around the coffee pot. In that setting, he heard tell of two men in a Mississippi small town in the 1930s. One killed the other, and would never admit why. He used this idea as a basis for this story, but also asks his readers to let him know if anyone can confirm it really happened.
    But the most powerful aspect of this particular novel was the lengthy flashback in Part Two, when our main character becomes a WWII hero fighting in the Philippines against Japanese invasion, and that part I will discuss, because it mostly has nothing to do with the mystery of the story.
    I am so passionately opposed to war, killing, fighting, invading, and all the other horrors the (barely) human race has inflicted upon their brothers and sisters. I can understand why, after this war, there was little sympathy for the Japanese, at least when the story is told from the Allies' perspective. However, I am painfully aware that our own government and military is no different, nor is any other super-power on this planet. Torture, brutality, and slaughter of innocent citizens, and even worse war crimes with weather warfare and chemical/biological attacks are all part of our modern, dystopian reality. In fact, none of them have a problem inflicting horror on their own citizens, and that is becoming blatantly obvious. This "human experiment" has proven to be a failure, devolving into something far below the planned enlightened beings, into something barely recognizable, in its obsession for power, greed, and self-gratification. We are on the cusp of extinction as I write this in April, 2021, and it couldn't happen soon enough. Let us just hope that those who have focused their lives on moral integrity and service to others, survive whatever is coming.
    I also want to point out that it was after this horrendous war that things began to get very creepy on this planet, including the climate engineering/weather warfare agenda and the development of greater and more powerful means to wipe out vast numbers of the population in a flash, the development of extremely toxic substances, sold to the public as safe, such as DDT and other agricultural poisons, vaccines, fluoride, GMOs and a host of other diabolical activities.
    I admit that I am not one who has read up on the history of WWI or WWII, but what I read here filled in lots of blanks as to our present situation, and has left me feeling quite sickened. So, therefore, I will say a bit about the murder-mystery part of the story, then spend the rest of the review on what happened in the Philippines during this war—an indescribable horror.
    The story begins in 1946, with Part One: The Killing. Pete Banning owns a 640 acre farm, where cotton is the main crop. He has returned from the war, stationed in the Philippines, having undergone starvation, torture, disease, and finally major injuries. When the U.S. finally decided to step in and give these poor soldiers some support, he was rescued and returned to the U.S, where he spent months in the hospital. On this particular day in October, he has made up his mind, after much planning, to kill the Methodist pastor, the Reverend Dexter Bell. He goes to his sister Florry's pink cottage on an adjoining parcel of land—her own after their parents died—to have breakfast, as usual. He behaves calmly and normally, as was the habit of the Bannings, and says very little. He and his bluetick hound, Mack, get in the truck and go to the church. Dexter is in his office working on a sermon when Pete walks in, pulls out a pistol, aims it at the preacher, and says, "You know why I'm here." Dexter, in shock, says, "Pete, what are you doing?" Pete replies, "I've killed a lot of men, Preacher, all brave soldiers on the field. You're the first coward." Dexter says, "If it's about Liza, I can explain," but Pete pulls the trigger and, with three shots, he is dead. Hop Purdue, the Black man who cleans the church, hears the shots. Pete walks out of the office and aims the gun at him, but he begs that he's done nothing. Pete lowers the gun, tells him he's a good man, then orders him to tell the sheriff. Pete gets back in his truck and heads home.
    Then begins the shockwave that spreads across the whole town. Of course Pete gets arrested, tells the deputies the gun is in the truck, and has nothing else to say. Nor does he ever have anything to say concerning what he did throughout the whole ordeal. The pastor had a wife and three children who, understandably are in complete hysteria. We learn that Pete also has two college-age children, Joel, a senior, and Stella, a sophomore, whom he orders to stay where they are and not come home until they hear otherwise. We know nothing of his wife, Liza, except that he writes her a letter, and we have an idea she is in an unfortunate situation. We find out later she is in an asylum.
    That is all I will say because this story does not go the way I thought it would. Not at all. In fact, just when I thought I had it figured out, especially what I expected would happen, I found I was dead wrong. And I hope I am not giving anything away when I say that my opinion of the main characters completely changed at the conclusion of the book. Wow! I don't think I have ever been so confused in my feelings toward a story as I was in this one. It is an extraordinary novel, but a terrible, horrific story. I will not even tell you the title of Part Three, but I will conclude with the lesson to be learned from it all, and that is: One never knows the catastrophic consequences of even one little lie, and the vast number of people who may be damaged by it. Therefore, we should ALL always tell the truth, no matter what.
    Now I will continue with Part Two: The Boneyard, which goes back to 1925. Pete has just graduated from West Point. The Peabody Hotel in Memphis, built in 1869, was the place where all the rich people went to socialize. Pete's family owned a lot of land and did well, but were by no means wealthy. A friend whom he knew as a cadet invited him to a ball. This was where he first laid eyes on eighteen-year-old Liza. The two fell in love instantly. Lust, too, and Liza discovered she loved sex, and couldn't get enough of it. But she soon realized she was pregnant. All this, of course, was not proper behavior for a couple in the 1920s! They eloped, and Liza planned to travel all over the world with her army husband.
    But it didn't turn out like that at all. Pete's parents both died suddenly, and he found himself with a farm to run that was heavily in debt. Though he had many Black field hands, the Bannings were never people to sit around while others did the work. Liza became a farmer's wife, and since she and Pete loved each other so passionately, as long as they were together, she was happy. As it turned out, she wanted to learn everything. The elderly Black couple that had been with the Bannings forever—Nineva delivered both Pete and Florry—helped make a housewife out of Liza. Amos taught her how to garden and milk cows. Pete gave her a horse and taught her to ride. She became involved with the farm to the point where she planned to find ways to raise the living standards of the Black farm workers that lived in little shacks on the outskirts of the farm. Pete soon got out of debt, planted more land, and the family was doing quite well. They wanted either five or six children, but two was all they got. After several devastating miscarriages, Liza even accepted that.
    Then the war came, and Pete knew he would be called up. He had lost all interest in the military at this point, but of course he had no choice. He ended up getting sent to the Philippines in 1941. WWII must have been horrendous no matter where troops were sent, but the portrayal of Japanese cruelty in this book made most of Book Two an emotional challenge to read. And I certainly learned more about this war than I wanted to know, and it seems every time I turn around, I am hearing something about it. Great evil took over in its wake. It is coming to a head now.
    Of course this is a fictional book, but I get the feeling that the passion in which Grisham presented the events at this particular time and place perhaps was based on something personal—someone he knew—a family member maybe—who experienced this hell first hand. "After the war, the Japanese commander, General Masaharu Homma and two of his officers were tried in United States military commissions on charges of failing to prevent their subordinates from committing war crimes," is stated in the Wikipedia article on the Bataan Death March. But it was the scathing criticism of the American government and military leaders, particularly Army Major General Douglas MacArthur, retired but recalled to active duty, that led me to believe there was a bone to pick, and Grisham wanted the truth to be known. Though MacArthur received honors for the role he played here, according to the story, he deserted to Australia (which he really did), then took credit for what the guerilla fighters did, who finally were able to do some damage to the Japanese forces. All through this incomprehensible hell, the American troops in the Philippines, had nothing they needed to fight a war. Washington promised, but did not deliver. In fact, these soldiers, along with the Filipino fighters, were basically abandoned and left on their own. The situation there was something no human being should ever have had to experience, but the lack of support from the country that sent these soldiers there—The United States of America—somehow makes everything we are discovering about this country and its history of using and abusing its soldiers—make sense. WWII seems to have set a precedent for the behavior which is now the norm for the elite, the wealthy, those high up in the government and military, who have little care for those at the bottom doing the real work. The birth and cultivation of something truly evil took place on this planet during the 1940s. This section of the story is truly ghastly. I will end my review with some quotes. This first one is from the beginning of Part Two, just after MacArthur arrives in Manila. He had lived in the Philippines for years and knew the country well.

   He had repeatedly warned Washington of the Japanese threat. His warnings were heard but not heeded. The challenge of getting his army on a war footing looked impossible, and there was little time.
   Upon taking command, he immediately began demanding more troops, armaments, airplanes, ships, submarines, and supplies. Washington promised everything but delivered little.

    And that set the precedent for the entire middle section of this novel. Great needs in every category, from basic food, water, and soldiers, to necessary equipment and support. On December 8, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was heard on the radio.

   According to the master plan for defense of the Philippines, the air force commander General Lewis Brereton, put his entire fleet on full alert. At 5:00 a.m. General Brereton arrived at MacArthur's headquarters in Manila to request permission to mount a B-17 bomber strike on the Japanese airfields on Formosa, two hundred miles away. MacArthur's chief of staff refused a meeting with the commander, saying he was too busy.

    In fact, every attempt Brereton made to speak with MacArthur was denied, even as his demands for an audience became increasingly desperate. To make a long story short, the Japanese were soon easily able to take over American bases in the Philippines and had control of the country. MacArthur escaped to Australia. At this point, the remaining troops were suffering from severe malnutrition and disease.

   On March 11, MacArthur, following orders from Washington, fled Corregidor with his family and top aides. He made it safely to Australia, where he set up his command. Although he performed no acts of combat valor, as required by law, and left his troops behind, MacArthur was rewarded the Medal of Honor for his gallant defense of the Philippines.

    Here is a quote from Wikipedia on the Philippines Campaign (1941-42).

   No formal investigation took place regarding this failure as it occurred in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. After the war, Brereton and Sutherland in effect blamed each other for FEAF being surprised on the ground, and MacArthur released a statement that he had no knowledge of any recommendation to attack Formosa with B-17s. Walter D. Edmunds summarized the disaster: "in the Philippines the personnel of our armed forces almost without exception failed to assess accurately the weight, speed, and efficiency of the Japanese Air Force." He quoted Maj. Gen. Emmett O'Donnell Jr., then a major in charge of the B-17s sent to Mindanao, as concluding that the first day was a "disorganized business" and that no one was "really at fault" because no one was "geared for war."

    Meanwhile, those troops remaining continued to fight, but few were able.

   The emaciated men he left on Bataan were in no condition to fight. They suffered from swelling joints, bleeding gums, numbness in feet and hands, low blood pressure, loss of body heat, shivers, shakes, and anemia so severe many could not walk. The malnutrition soon led to dysentery, with diarrhea so debilitating the men often collapsed. Bataan was a malaria-infested province in peaceful times, and the war provided countless new targets for the mosquitoes. After being bitten, the men were hit with fever, sweats and fits of chills. By the end of March, a thousand men a day were being infected with malaria. Most of the officers suffered from it. One general reported that only half of his command could fight. The other half were "so sick, hungry, and tired they could never hold a position or launch an attack."

    Those that could, continued to hold out, thinking there would be a rescue. Then they heard the dreadful news. There would be no reinforcements arriving. In one of his "Fireside Chats" President Roosevelt announced they would concentrate their fighting in "areas other than the Philippines."
    Through the blatant failures of the American military to take charge of the situation and support their men, the remaining troops in the Philippines were forced to surrender, under General King. To the Japanese, surrender was an act of cowardice, and those who became their prisoners suffered indescribably horrific cruelty for that which was out of their control.
    And then the situation became even more gruesome.
    Emotionally, this is an extremely difficult book to read, but well worth it, especially if you are one that follows the lies, corruption and pure evil taking place on this planet now. It provides many more dots to connect. Highly recommended.

All material on this site copyright © 2021 by Laughing Crow.
This site designed and written by Laughing Crow.