Why would a World War II hero, a prominent citizen in the small town of Clanton, Mississippi, walk in to his church in 1946 and coldly pump three bullets into the popular Methodist minister, a family friend?

That’s the question driving John Grisham’s new novel “The Reckoning” (Doubleday, $29.95).

Is murder ever justified?

I couldn’t help thinking of Harper Lee’s great American novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” while reading “The Reckoning.”

Not that Grisham was trying to write a literary classic, but “The Reckoning” is deeper, more ambitious than his usual legal thrillers. The pacing is deliberate, at times sleepy, and the writing matter-of-fact. But have no doubt: He knows how to spin a yarn.

“The Reckoning” envelopes itself in Southern tropes: madness (a la Tennessee Williams), segregation, miscegenation. Throw in the Bataan Death March, and there’s something for most fiction (and history) lovers.

A murder mystery, a courtroom drama, a family saga, a coming-of-age story, a war narrative, a period piece. “The Reckoning” is Grisham’s argument that he’s more than a thriller writer.

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