February 23, 2016

John Grisham wrote a “non-legal thriller” about focused ultrasound technology


John Grisham at Neal Kassell's TEDx talk (via YouTube)

John Grisham at Neal Kassell’s TEDx talk (via YouTube)

John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers, but though he’s continued to write them at a steady clip since 1989—when he published A Time to Kill—he hasn’t always stuck to the same stories.

In addition to his twenty-five legal thrillers, Grisham has written novels about baseball, football, and Christmas, as well as a series of middle-grade books about Theodore Boone, a teenaged “amateur attorney.”

But all of that seems quite conventional compared to The Tumor, a free forty-nine-page book described by the Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald as “one of the stranger literary digressions in recent memory.”

Unlike Grisham’s thrillers, which are, broadly speaking, about injustice and the inequities of the American legal system, The Tumor—a “non-legal thriller”—is about one thing and one thing only: the promise of focused ultrasound, which the Focused Ultrasound Foundation describes as “an early-stage, non-invasive therapeutic technology with the potential to transform the treatment of many medical disorders by using ultrasonic energy to target tissue deep in the body without incisions or radiation.”

Grisham told the Post that it’s the most important book he’s ever written:

“I write escapist popular fiction that entertains,” Grisham said in an interview. “It’s entertainment. It doesn’t pretend to be literature or anything else. But The Tumor has the potential to one day save or prolong millions of lives.”

Grisham found out about focused ultrasound through his friendship with Neal Kassell, a University of Virginia surgeon who founded the Foundation, and whom Grisham calls his “personal brain surgeon.” Last year, the writer participated in Kassell’s TEDx talk about the technology, and he offers a testimonial on the Foundation’s website. But The Tumor is Grisham’s most concrete act in building awareness of focused ultrasound.

According to Rosenwald, Grisham’s publishing team isn’t thrilled with his decision to deviate from his strict novel-writing schedule and write a book (available as a free print book(!) or download on the Foundation’s website) about a man with a brain tumor that features not one, but two unhappy endings. (In 2014, we reported on another thing that probably caused Grisham’s team some stress.)

Still, those in the Grisham business probably shouldn’t lose much sleep over the writer’s somewhat strange but unquestionably charitable act. According to Penguin Random House’s website, Theodore Boone: The Scandal is due out in May, and a new legal thriller is coming in October.



Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.