John Grisham is a powerhouse writer whose life is almost as interesting as his body of work. John Grisham’s books draw off his experiences as an attorney and politician for the most part but are also packed with humanity and emotion. This makes John Grisham the master of legal thrillers.
Difficult as it may be to single out a few of Grisham’s books to label his best, this article will list some best of the best John Grisham books that fans are rooting for—most of these books have made it to the New York Times Bestseller List.
About John Grisham
John Grisham’s novels are a loose reflection of his life and experience as an attorney in Mississippi and a politician. In novels like The Painted House, he draws on memories of his wanting to be a baseball player as a young man.
Each John Grisham book transports the reader to some stage of his personal life, allowing the readers to be fully submerged into the plot.
Grisham graduated from Mississippi State University in 1977 and then went on to the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctor degree in the early 1980s. He practiced law for ten years and was elected as a Democrat into the Mississippi House of Representatives.
He began writing and found that he enjoyed it more than practicing law, so he made writing his full-time job. Most of his novels are legal thrillers.
Some of the Best John Grisham’s Books
Many people would argue on this list because there are so many great books that John Grisham wrote. Most of his fans, however, probably share similar top ten lists. Many of his books have been adapted into films that many people probably do not know that the story was originally based on Grisham’s books.
1. The Firm
The Firm is a legal thriller in which the main character, Mitch McDeere, a young law school graduate, is offered a position with a firm that comes with more perks than most other firms would offer. The law firm pays off all of his student loans, hires a fancy decorator for his young wife, buys him an expensive luxury car, and gets him into the best restaurants and bars.
Some people would say that it is good to be true. In this second novel written by John Grisham, McDeere learns that the law firm has connections with the mob, essentially buying his cooperation and silence. Mitch has some serious decisions to make that could potentially end his career, his family, and his life.
Made into a movie in the early 1990s, Tom Cruise played Mitch and also shared the screen with the heavy hitter, Gene Hackman. This movie ushered in the age of the legal thriller movie and put Grisham’s books to the mainstream. It also helped push Tom Cruise to level up in his acting career.
2. A Painted House
This was John Grisham’s first novel to stray from a legal thriller into drama and suspense. Set in the early 1950s in Arkansas on a cotton farm, seven-year-old Luke has spent his summers like they usually would as his family seeks to hire people to harvest the cotton on their farm.
Luke witnessed two murders and was threatened by the murderers not to say anything about what he saw. Torn between doing the right thing and staying safe, the child has to endure his conscience that no child should ever experience at such a young age.
3. The Street Lawyer
The Street Lawyer is a legal thriller that opens with a group of attorneys being held hostage by a homeless man known only as “Mister.” After the homeless man is shot, one of the attorneys begins digging deeper into the entire situation and uncovers some truly disturbing things.
This is the first John Grisham book in which he lets his inner activist leak onto the pages of his writing, but the actual story does not overpower it. It is a John Grisham book with a deeper meaning than just the story, but it does not shove the message down the reader’s throat or beat them over the head with it.
4. The Runaway Jury
The Runaway Jury is named by many as one of the best John Grisham stories. It is also a movie that ranks high on the favorites list. This is often regarded as one of the best legal thrillers ever written by many. A movie adaptation was made based on this book, starring Gene Hackman, John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, and Rachel Weisz.
Set in Biloxi, Mississippi, the story revolves around a crooked tobacco company. A stealth juror is set on manipulating the verdict when a woman sues a giant tobacco company after her husband dies of lung cancer. The Runaway Jury is a story of corruption, bribery, heartache, the fight for justice, and morality.
5. Theodore Boone Series (Kid Lawyer books)
A series of John Grisham books written for children about a child named Theodore Boone, dubbed “kid lawyer,” this series draws in a whole new audience to the writings of John Grisham.
The thirteen-year-old son of two attorneys, Theodore Boone, already knows a lot about the law and how a courtroom works. Dreaming of a future that includes law school, Theodore Boone hopes to grow up and be like his parents.
In preparation for that, Theodore Boone solves conflicts and mysteries of his friends and classmates using legal deductions and processes.
6. Skipping Christmas
Skipping Christmas is the first novel in which Grisham tried comedy writing. While it was underwhelming to die-hard fans of his legal thrillers, the book is a fun take on Christmas and the lack of sentimentality felt in modern times surrounding the holiday.
A story about a family who decides to skip Christmas because it focuses more on material goods and decorations than on the real Christmas message, hijinks ensue. Although it becomes evident in this book that John Grisham’s career in comedy does not look promising, it is a notable book because it is so far outside what Grisham fans are used to.
It is also worth mentioning that Skipping Christmas was adapted into a movie that many people have seen but have no idea it came from the imagination of John Grisham. That movie is Christmas with the Kranks, starring Tim Allen.
7. The Pelican Brief
The Pelican Brief is a thrill ride that is part legal and part political. It involves the murder of two Supreme Court Justices, corruption, assassins, a young lawyer, and a student named Darby Shaw, caught in the middle of it all.
This legal fiction has a hint of political messaging in it, and the writing style takes you on a roller coaster that leaves the reader on the edge of their seat for much of the novel.
Adapted into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, this is another one that many people have seen and are familiar with, even if they have not read the book.
8. The Whistler
The Whistler is the story of a corrupt judge, false identities, justice, and plot twists. One of the most exciting legal crime thriller genres, this book starts strong and stays strong, never letting up until the end.
9. A Time to Kill
A Time to Kill was the first novel that Grisham wrote, and it was not an immediate success. It did not get praise until after his second novel was published. However, it is still a great story that is touching, painful at times, and riveting.
A Time to Kill was the first of the Grisham novels, and it seems like after A Time to Kill made its debut, Grisham was off to the races.
The book highlights the wrongs of racial injustice and the story is written in a way that makes it impossible to ignore. The film adaptation features Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, and Sandra Bullock, and it is titled the same as the book: A Time to Kill.
10. The Partner
Known by many as the legal fiction book with the best ending, The Partner is the story of a Mississippi lawyer who fakes his death, takes money, and runs to Brazil.
Four decades later, he comes back, and what happens from that point on is so unpredictable that readers have dubbed this book impossible to figure out before the ending is revealed. Full of turns and eye-popping plot twists, this one you probably will not figure out ahead of time.
11. The Innocent Man
The only nonfiction of the John Grisham books is the story of Ron Williamson. He received the death penalty following his arrest and conviction of the rape and murder of a local girl in Oklahoma.
Believing that the man was innocent, John Grisham worked closely with Project Innocence to get him freed, which finally occurred. He wrote the nonfiction book defending Williamson to bring attention to more than just one man’s innocence.
This book garnered such an interest and following that it became a six-part documentary series on Netflix.
12. Ford County (Short Stories)
Ford County, the setting for numerous John Grisham books, is also his short story collection title—a collection of seven stories. This short story series also solidifies that John Grisham is present in every writing he tries.
These seven stories are meaningful and full of emotion, suspense, and action and captivate readers.
The important thing to note is that short stories are not the same as writing full-length novels, and it takes a certain level of skill to be good at both, but Grisham has conquered every type of writing he has tried. This book is a page-turner right up the alley of every legal thriller fan.
13. Camino Island
Camino Island is significant for two reasons. First, it is the first book Grisham went on a tour to promote in 25 years. Second, it is a fun book that keeps the reader guessing. It deals with a rare book heist and strays from the legal world that most Grisham’s books fit into.
14. The Guardians
This book was written after Grisham became involved with the Innocence Project. In the novel, Cullen Post is a minister and lawyer who is part of an organization that does its best to overturn wrongful convictions.
Cullen’s post notices a Black man wrongfully accused of killing his attorney. Having been in prison for decades, the real killers do not want him out of jail, but Cullen is not swayed.
15. The Rainmaker
The sixth novel by Grisham, The Rainmaker, differs from his other books because it is a simple story. It deals with the post-college angst of a new lawyer as he tries to find a job and fails time after time. It covers courtroom drama, is written in the past tense, and simply showcases Grisham’s time trying to find his place in the legal professional world.
It covers an area that Grisham loves to write about: small-time attorneys vs. evil corporations (in this case, a large insurance company). This film was also adapted into a movie.
16. The Testament
When a very wealthy man dies and leaves everyone but an illegitimate daughter out of his will, it leaves his lawyer searching Latin America for a woman who does not want millions.
This story of recovery, connection, and drama can inevitably come with the death of wealthy and estranged family members. It is highly regarded as one of the best John Grisham books.
17. The Last Juror
A novel that depicts typical Southern living with lots of legal drama, The Last Juror, is a man who owns the only newspaper published in the entire county in the 1970s, covering a murder with many witnesses and an exciting and nail-biting trial. This character learns how to cover a trial for the media. The Last Juror stays with the reader long after its conclusion.
Real-life experiences inspired Grisham’s book in the DeSoto County Courthouse in the early 1980s.
18. The Broker
The Broker is a story of international intrigue and a Presidential pardon. Viewed as one of the best John Grisham books, it is a story that many readers cherish. It is a tale that shows off Grisham’s thriller writing chops.
19. The Litigators
In this novel, lawyer David Zinc finds himself going head to head against his old firm. Regarded by many fans as a more comedic book than most of his other more serious thrillers, this one seems to split some readers, as some like it and some do not. It is hard to miss the fact that some of Grisham’s humor shines through, though.
20. Rogue Lawyer
Rogue Lawyer tells the story of an oddball street lawyer named Rudd, who drives around in a bulletproof van, looking for clients. He only represents people that other attorneys will never represent. He has no partner or staff aside from a bodyguard. One of Grisham’s novels that seem silly at the short description level ends up being a remarkable, deep story in the end.
Other Books Worth Mentioning
With well over 30 books in his catalog, Grisham has many others that qualify as truly great works of fiction. Sycamore Row, for example, is a companion book to A Time to Kill. Well reviewed and earning awards, Sycamore Row may not be on a “best” list, but it is undoubtedly an excellent book.
The Rooster Bar is a novel about several friends who create a law firm to take on a wealthy corporation they feel is responsible for their friend’s death. Often overlooked, The Rooster Bar is an emotional roller coaster.
Nearly every book written by Grisham climbs to the top of the bestseller list, and his fans await each new book eagerly. Simply because he is the King of the Courtroom Thriller.