Two days after the release of John Grisham’s latest book, “The Judge’s List,” this week, the best-selling thriller writer will speak to attendees of a virtual book talk hosted by, and to raise money for, the Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport.

The book comes out Tuesday, and the library will host A Virtual Lunch Conversation with John Grisham from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday. Tickets cost $50, and that includes a link to the event and a copy of the book with a bookplate signed by Grisham. For tickets and details, visit graveslibrary.org.

Author John Grisham will speak at a virtual event for the Graves Library on Thursday. Photo by Michael Lionstar

The event was arranged through mutual friends of Grisham and the library, Billy and Rosemary Shore, who live part of the year in Kennebunkport. The Shores have worked with Grisham and his wife, Renee, on hunger relief and other humanitarian issues, including helping to feed desperate families along the southern border of the United States.

During the pandemic, the Shores have spent most of their time in Kennebunkport, said Billy Shore, founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, parent organization of the No Kid Hungry Campaign. They’ve become involved in several organizations and initiatives, including the fire department, where he volunteers, and the library, where Rosemary Shore recently joined the board.

“The library has always been important to our family, and during the pandemic it became a lifeline for so many people,” he said. “We wanted to help, and when I thought about what we could do, I immediately thought of John.”

Describing the library as “one of the community’s gems” and the heart and soul of Kennebunkport, Rosemary Shore emailed Grisham to ask if he would consider helping the library raise funds.

“He answered in a minute, and said he would be delighted,” Rosemary Shore said. “John and Renee are so authentically engaged in whatever they are committed to, without attribution. They are not looking for the attention at all. With them, you feel like what matters to them matters to them. It’s so heartening that people can be as good as they appear to be, when their backstage self is as good as their on-stage self.”

Library director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas called it “a tremendous coup for the entire community” to get Grisham to agree to talk about his life and his work. “Like many readers, I have been a fan since ‘A Time to Kill’ was published back in 1989,” she said.

She likes Grisham because he writes what she calls “the table pounder” – a book so good she pounds her fists on the table with intense authority and approval. With “A Time to Kill,” she said, “I began with the pounding and without even realizing it, I jumped up and started punching the air in triumph. … Mr. Grisham is the master at authenticating legal thrillers in such a way that one can hardly wait for the next book to hit libraries and bookstores everywhere.”

“The Judge’s List,” the latest novel by John Grisham.

For “The Judge’s List,” Grisham brings back the character of Lacy Stoltz, whom he introduced in 2016 in “The Whistler.” In that one, Lacy was looking into bad judges in Florida. In the new book, she is pursuing a judge suspected of being a serial killer.

Grisham, 66, writes a book a year. He begins each new project on Jan. 1 and wraps it up by July or August, always pegged to a fall release. He has written dozens of books over more than three decades, with more than two dozen as New York Times best-sellers. He is credited with inventing the legal thriller genre with “The Firm,” which became a film starring Tom Cruise. Several of his books were made into feature films – “The Chamber,” “The Pelican Brief,” “The Rainmaker” and others.

But those days are long over, Grisham said in a phone interview from his home in Virginia. “It was a wonderful time that I thought would last forever. But it didn’t.”

Through his writing and the platform of his celebrity, Grisham has advocated for death-row inmates and against mass incarceration, and worked through the Innocence Project to help free people who were wrongly convicted.

Now, the writer of thrillers about lawyers, judges and an often-corrupt legal system, is worried about the integrity of the real-life legal system in this country with the continued infusion of politics into the courts.

A former Democratic state legislator from Mississippi and practicing attorney, Grisham fears that the administration of Donald Trump caused long-term damage to the federal judiciary by nominating unqualified judges.

“I am worried because in the past four years there were so many federal judges appointed to the bench for life, who are so young and who will be there for a long time, who are untested and unproven. That does not mean they will not do well. It means they are unqualified,” Grisham said.

“The last administration was very aggressive in getting conservative judges appointed and approved. What’s happened with the Supreme Court, we all know that story. We are continuing to see a shift to the right, a seismic shift to the right, because of this court. They are conservative, and they will be there a long time. That bothers me.”

Despite his dire concerns over the politicization of the legal system, he is optimistic that tangible changes are possible.

“Before the last administration, we were seeing movement on both sides. People on the left are ticked off about mass incarceration and human rights issues … and people on the right have been complaining about how much it costs for our states to run corrections systems, and they’re tired of paying for it,” he said. “I am optimistic about the two sides coming together for meaningful criminal justice reform.”


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