Guest Blogger: Kate Sims-Drew on John Grisham

If you found a stack of cash and had to keep it safe without anyone finding out about it, where would you put it?  This is one of the major dilemmas of John Grisham’s excellent novel “The Summons.”  In the last year I have “discovered” Grisham—just a little bit late!

I’ve never exactly been a trendsetter; anyone who has seen how I dress knows that I’m always about a decade behind.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I just discovered John Grisham, whose popularity probably peaked in the mid to late 90’s.  I’ve always been a lover of mysteries and thrillers, so it’s actually kind of baffling why I didn’t pursue him earlier; in fact, my grandmother went through a big Grisham phase, and even pulled my sister into it.  I suppose being in college from 1996 to 2000 and having no time for pleasure reading delayed my foray into his work.

The premise of “The Summons” is that a man returns home to his ailing father, a former judge, only to find that his father has died, and that he had a secret stash of money in cash.  The son decides to keep the money secret from everyone, including his brother, until he can determine where it came from.  It doesn’t take long for this secret to consume him, and he becomes extremely paranoid.  I won’t ruin the ending, but I thoroughly enjoyed how the plot developed.

This inspired me to listen to my second Grisham on a long drive to Boston last summer.  The outcome of my previous attempts to pick out something to please both me and my husband has ranged from an outstanding novel that kept us on edge for hours to my husband telling me to turn off a Harry Potter book after about 2 sentences.  I was hoping that Grisham’s thriller style would make the time pass quickly.  Unfortunately, our local library only had one well-reviewed Grisham book on CD available, the non-fiction book “An Innocent Man.”  Little did I know how fortuitous this would be!  It follows the life of Ron Williamson, who was sentenced to death row for a rape and murder he didn’t commit (and which he was only tied to by the most circumstantial of evidence).  The story was a perfect fit for us because of many of the underlying themes.  We are both big baseball fans, so it was fascinating hearing about Ron’s background and his attempts to work his way from the minors to the major leagues.  Also, as someone with a lot of mental illness in my family, I was interested in how Ron’s mental illness played a role in his conviction.  This book was also a timely choice; just days after we listened to it Illinois officially banned the death penalty!  The sad truth is that stories like Ron’s are all too common—in some ways, I felt like I had heard the basic story many times before.  However, Grisham painted such a rich story that the book was very enjoyable.

Now that I have a baby, I may be entering another dark period where literary trends pass me by.  But someday I hope to at least catch up on some of the Grisham classics like “The Firm.”

by Kate Sims

Kate is an Associate Professor of Math at Prairie State College.

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