February 12, 2001 12:00 PM

by John Grisham

Continuing to wean his fans off legal thrillers, Grisham offers this 100 percent courtroom-free novel about an Arkansas farm boy in 1952. Like all Grisham characters, Luke Chandler, 7, finds himself in the eye of a plot hurricane. A boy with “lots of secrets but no way to unload them,” he witnesses two murders, sees his first naked female, worships baseball great Stan Musial and learns to paint houses—all while his family’s cotton farm is going through one crisis after another, including a devastating flood. Grisham is a native Arkansan, and the best thing about his fiction has long been his ability to evoke the feel of the South—the oppressive heat, the pervasiveness of people’s ties to the land and the region’s odd caste system. But he never quite succeeds here in drawing other characters into Luke’s dilemmas. By the end hardcore Grisham fans will probably wish for a nice, familiar writ of habeas corpus or a motion to suppress. (Doubleday, $27.95)

Bottom Line: Middling departure from his standard fare

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