John Grisham has written dozens of novels over the past 27 years – including the bestselling legal thrillers A Time to Kill, The Firm and The Pelican Brief – but he says his latest work, The Tumor, is “the most important book he has ever written.” So important, in fact, that he’s made the book available for free.
The author’s new thriller is unlike any of his others. A fictional account of how a real medical technology could impact the future of medicine, The Tumor tells the story of Paul, a 35-year-old man with a loving wife and three children, who is diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Paul may be the protagonist of the 49-page book, but the real hero is focused ultrasound, a medical device that ends up prolonging Paul’s life by seven years in an alternate-ending plot twist.
Grisham, 61, published The Tumor late last month, against the wishes of his agent, editor and publisher. His publishing industrial complex in New York was “worried a lot of readers would feel like they were deceived, that it wasn’t good for my brand. They are very protective of me,” he told The Washington Post.
But Grisham decided to go ahead with the book anyway because he believes it has the “potential to one day save or prolong millions of lives.”
Focused ultrasound is a non-invasive therapy in development for treating cancer and other diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s by using energy beams to destroy diseased tissues. Grisham became interested in the treatment after becoming friends with Neal Kassell, a prominent University of Virginia neurosurgeon who founded the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. According to The Washington Post, Grisham calls Kassell his “personal brain surgeon” but says he’s never used his services.
Kassell asked Grisham to join the foundation’s board about eight years ago, urging the author to use his influence to help raise awareness for the treatment. But Grisham wasn’t interested. “I’m not good at raising money,” he said. “I don’t like to raise money. It’s been my experience that when I ask someone for money, it’s not long before they return the favor.”
A few years later, Grisham decided that writing a book would be the best and most organic way for him to spread the word about focused ultrasound. He says writers always “steal stories” and “scenes” from the people and world around them, and this time his book was inspired by Kassell.
“He tells stories like this all the time,” Grisham said. “A young person in the prime of life cut down and killed by a tumor. He’s seen the suffering. He’s been there. So I just went with it.”