John Grisham has written more than 30 novels, a non-fiction book, a collection of stories, and seven novels for young readers. However, he is by far most well-known for penning suspenseful courtroom dramas that draw from his practical experience in the field of law. This list will focus on his fiction novels and narrow down his bibliography to the 15 best John Grisham books.
Who Is John Grisham?
Before he became a writer, John Grisham was a practicing lawyer specializing in criminal defence and personal injury litigation. It was actually after witnessing a trial that he penned his first novel: A Time to Kill.
As well, Grisham was an elected member of Mississippi’s House of Representatives from 1983 until 1990. During this time, he would write in the morning before work. It took Grisham three years to complete his first novel in 1987, which was then published in 1989.
While it was initially rejected many times and only had a small print-run, Grisham’s second novel – The Firm – received much higher acclaim. It spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and became the bestselling novel of 1991.
Since then, all of Grisham’s novels have gone on to become international bestsellers. Collectively his books have sold more than 300 million copies. As well, many of his novels have been adapted for the screen as films or television shows.
His practical experience within court rooms has bleed into his writing and helps make his writing so realistic and captivating to readers.
Both The Firm and A Time to Kill feature on our list of the 15 best John Grisham books. Keep reading to find out more about these books, and the 13 others, that comprise our list of the Grisham books you must read.
A Summary of the Best John Grisham Books
The majority of the titles on our list of John Grisham’s best books are standalone novels. In fact, all of them can be read as standalones. Each book has a self-contained plot that nicely wraps itself up by the end, which makes for a satisfying read.
However, if you’re looking to read his books for the first time, you might want to follow my list of all 40+ John Grisham books in order. In any case, continue reading for a summary of each book on our list to find out more.
1. The Firm
The Firm is John Grisham’s second novel, and that which propelled him to fame with its impressive stay on the New York Times bestseller list. It was adapted into a film in 1993 starring Tom Cruise and Jeanne Tripplehorn. It is the highest grossing film of all Grisham’s movie adaptations.
For a young lawyer on the make, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse: A position at a law firm where the bucks, billable hours, and benefits are over the top. It’s a dream job for an up-and-comer – if he can overlook the uneasy feeling he gets at the office.
Then an FBI investigation plunges the straight and narrow attorney into a nightmare of terror and intrigue, with no choice but to pit his wits, ethics, and legal skills against the firm’s deadly secrets – if he hopes to stay alive.
2. The Partner
Our pick for the second best John Grisham book is his seventh published standalone novel: The Partner.
They watched Danilo Silva for days before they finally grabbed him. He was living alone, a quiet life on a shady street in Brazil; a simple life in a modest home, certainly not one of luxury.
Certainly no evidence of the fortune they thought he had stolen. As well, he was much thinner and his face was different. He spoke a different language too, and spoke it very well.
But Danilo had a past with many chapters. Four years earlier he had been Patrick Lanigan, a young partner in a prominent Biloxi law firm. He had a pretty wife, a new daughter, and a bright future.
Then one cold winter night Patrick died a horrible death in a burning car. At his funeral, his casket held nothing more than his ashes.
From a short distance away, Patrick watched his own burial. Then he fled. Six weeks later, a fortune was stolen from his ex-law firm’s offshore account.
And Patrick fled some more. But they found him.
3. The Last Juror
Next is another of Grisham’s standalone novels.
In 1970, Willie Traynor came to Clanton, Mississippi, in a Triumph Spitfire and a fog of vague ambitions. Within a year, the twenty-three-year-old found himself the owner of Ford County’s only newspaper, famous for its well-crafted obituaries.
While the rest of America was in the grips of turmoil, Clanton lived on the edge of another age – until the brutal murder of a young mother rocked the town and thrust Willie into the center of a storm. Daring to report the true horrors of the crime, Willie made as many friends as enemies in Clanton. Over the next decade he would sometimes wonder how he had gotten there in the first place.
But he could never escape the crime that had shattered his innocence or the criminal whose evil had left an indelible stain. Because as the ghosts of the South’s past gather around Willie, as tension swirls around Clanton, men and women who served on a jury nine years ago are starting to die one by one – as a killer exacts the ultimate revenge.
4. The Rainmaker
Another standalone novel, The Rainmaker was adapted into a film of the same name in 1997 starring Matt Damon, Mickey Rourke, Claire Danes, and Danny DeVito. This was Grisham’s first courtroom thriller since his debut novel: A Time to Kill.
It tells the story of a young man barely out of law school who finds himself taking on one of the most powerful, corrupt, and ruthless companies in America. And in the process exposing a complex, multibillion-dollar insurance scam.
In his final semester of law school Rudy Baylor must provide free legal advice to a group of senior citizens, and it is there that he meets his first clients: Dot and Buddy Black. Their son, Donny Ray, is dying of leukemia, and their insurance company has flatly refused to pay for his medical treatments. While Rudy is at first skeptical, he soon realizes that the Blacks really have been shockingly mistreated by the huge company.
Furthermore, he realizes he just may have stumbled upon one of the largest insurance frauds anyone’s ever seen – and one of the most lucrative and important cases in the history of civil litigation. The problem is, Rudy’s flat broke, has no job, hasn’t even passed the bar, and is about to go head-to-head with one of the best defense attorneys – and powerful industries – in America.
5. The Testament
The Testament is John Grisham’s ninth standalone novel and was first published in 1999.
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 is 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.
6. A Time to Kill
While John Grisham’s debut novel did not immediately receive success, that was quickly rectified as his career progressed. With the success of his second novel A Time to Kill was released again with a larger print run and became a bestseller. It was also adapted into blockbuster hit of the same name in 1996 staring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ashley Judd.
It marks the first book in his Jake Brigance series and is a riveting story of retribution and justice.
The life of a ten-year-old Black girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless white men. The mostly white town of Clanton in Ford County, Mississippi, reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime – until the girl’s father acquires an assault rifle and takes justice into his own hands.
For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life – and then his own.
7. The Broker
The Broker is a standalone novel that dips into the world of politics and international intrigue.
In his final hours in the Oval Office, the outgoing President grants a controversial last-minute pardon to Joel Backman, a notorious Washington power broker who has spent the last six years hidden away in a federal prison. What no one knows is that the President issues the pardon only after receiving enormous pressure from the CIA. It seems Backman, in his power broker heyday, may have obtained secrets that compromise the world’s most sophisticated satellite surveillance system.
Backman is quietly smuggled out of the country in a military cargo plane, given a new name, a new identity, and a new home in Italy. Eventually, after he has settled into his new life, the CIA will leak his whereabouts to the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese, and the Saudis.
Then the CIA will do what it does best: Sit back and watch. The question is not whether Backman will survive – there is no chance of that. The question the CIA needs answered is, who will kill him?
8. Skipping Christmas
Skipping Christmas is a departure from John Grisham’s usual drama thrillers, but one that deserves a spot on this list nonetheless. You might better recognize it by the name of its 2004 film adaptation staring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis: Christmas with the Kranks.
Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition.
Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, and no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether.
Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty. They won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash. They aren’t even going to have a tree.
The Kranks won’t need one, because come December 25 they’re setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences. And it isn’t half as easy as they’d imagined.
9. The Confession
While the rights to John Grisham’s 2010 novel have been acquired, no film adaptation has been made yet. This standalone novel follows the story of an innocent man on death row, who can only be saved by a guilty man.
In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, Travis Boyette abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found. Then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.
Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution; and Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor.
For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess. But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?
10. The Whistler
The Whistler is John Grisham’s first novel in the Whistler series. It explores the corruption within the legal system.
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?
Lacy Stoltz is an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. It is her job to respond to complaints dealing with judicial misconduct. After nine years with the Board, she knows that most problems are due to incompetence, not corruption.
But a corruption case eventually crosses her desk. A previously disbarred lawyer is back in business, and he claims to know of a Florida judge who has stolen more money than all other crooked judges combined.
And not just crooked judges in Florida. All judges, from all states, and throughout United States history. And now he wants to put a stop to it.
His only client is a person who knows the truth and wants to blow the whistle and collect millions under Florida law. When Lacy receives the case, she immediately suspects that this one could be dangerous. But dangerous is one thing – deadly is something else.
11. Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row returns to John Grisham’s popular Jake Brigance series with the second novel following Jake.
Seth Hubbard is a wealthy white man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten will.
It is an act that drags his adult children, his Black maid, and defense attorney Jake Brigance into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.
The second will raises many more questions than it answers: Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?
12. The Litigators
The Litigators is another standalone novel by John Grisham that follows his adored theme of the underdog taking on a massive corporation in a courtroom thrilling drama.
After leaving a fast-track legal career and going on a serious bender, David Zinc is sober, unemployed, and desperate enough to take a job at Finley & Figg, a self-described “boutique law firm” that is anything but. Oscar Finley and Wally Figg are in fact just two ambulance chasers who bicker like an old married couple.
But now the firm is ready to tackle a case that could make the partners rich – without requiring them to actually practice much law. A class action suit against Varrick Labs, a pharmaceutical giant with annual sales of $25 billion, alleges that Krayoxx – its most popular drug – causes heart attacks.
Wally smells money. All Finley & Figg has to do is find a handful of Krayoxx users to join the suit. It almost seems too good to be true…and it is.
13. The Racketeer
Thirteenth on our list, The Racketeer is John Grisham’s twentieth standalone novel and another New York Times bestseller.
In the history of the United States, only four active federal judges have been murdered. Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five.
At his remote lakeside cabin there is no sign of forced entry or struggle. Just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.
One man, a former attorney, knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and why. But that man, Malcolm Bannister, is currently residing in the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.
Though serving time, Malcolm has an ace up his sleeve. He has information the FBI would love to know.
And Malcolm would love to tell them. But everything has a price – and the man known as the Racketeer wasn’t born yesterday.
14. Gray Mountain
The penultimate book on our list introduces a new John Grisham heroine in this standalone novel that has violence and litigation lurking around every corner.
The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track – until the recession hits. Then Samantha finds herself downsized, furloughed, and escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is given an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, on the slim chance she will be brought back to the firm.
In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia. It is in the heart of Appalachia with a population of 2,200. It’s a part of the world she has only ever read about.
Samantha’s new job takes her into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack. But some of the locals aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town, and within weeks Samantha is engulfed in litigation that turns deadly. Because like most small towns, Brady harbors big secrets that some will kill to conceal.
15. Calico Joe
The last book on our list of the best John Grisham books is Calico Joe.
Calico Joe is another slight departure from John Grisham’s usual courtroom thrillers. This time, instead of a comedic introspective depiction of Christmastime, Grisham delivers a heart-warming account of the relationship between fathers and sons against the backdrop of Major League Baseball. It draws heavily from Grisham’s childhood dreams of playing professional baseball.
In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball. The greatest rookie anyone had ever seen. The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas, dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.
Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever.
Best John Grisham Books Wrap-Up
Here is our list of the 15 best John Grisham books you should read right now.
- The Firm (1991)
- The Partner (1997)
- The Last Juror (2004)
- The Rainmaker (1995)
- The Testament (1999)
- A Time to Kill (1989)
- The Broker (2005)
- Skipping Christmas (2001)
- The Confession (2010)
- The Whistler (2016)
- Sycamore Row (2013)
- The Litigators (2011)
- The Racketeer (2012)
- Gray Mountain (2014)
- Calico Joe (2012)
Most of John Grisham’s bibliography is comprised of standalone novels. Therefore most of the books our list of the best John Grisham books are standalones, with the noteworthy exceptions from his Jake Brigance and the Whistler series.
However, as mentioned, all books on this list can be read as standalones, which makes for an unintimidating way to break into an author’s written material. There are no lengthy series you need to catch up on before you feel well-versed.
You can start your reading journey of John Grisham with almost any of his books, but we highly recommend using this list of our picks for the best John Grisham books. Do you agree with our top picks? Let us know in the comments below.
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I have read all of the above and enjoyed each one thoroughly…currently I am reading Boys From Biloxi which, I think deserves a spot on John Grisham’s Top 15 List. But I have a question…how does Mr. Grisham select the names for his characters? Fats Bowman, for instance, is priceless as is Ginger Redfield and Lance Malco..so where or how are these fictitious names selected?