John Grisham on what Biloxians should think of his new novel

Best-selling author John Grisham’s next novel, “The Boys from Biloxi,” is due out Tuesday, and if the man who wrote 47 consecutive No. 1 bestsellers had a message for the people of Biloxi about this new book, it would be this:

“It’s a novel. It’s fiction,” Grisham told Bmail in a phone conversation over the weekend. “So, first of all, I hope they are entertained by it. And I hope that the story holds up on all different fronts, as it’s supposed to. It’s supposed to be entertainment.”

The novel, according to the official synopsis, tells the story of Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco, who grew up in Biloxi in the ‘60s and were childhood friends, as well as Little League all-stars. But as teenagers, their lives took them in different directions. Keith’s father became a legendary prosecutor, determined to “clean up the Coast.” Hugh’s father became the “Boss” of Biloxi’s criminal underground. Keith went to law school and followed in his father’s footsteps. Hugh preferred the nightlife and worked in his father’s clubs. The two families were headed for a showdown, one that would happen in a courtroom.

“I hope that the book is historically and factually accurate, as much as a novel can be,” Grisham said. “I tried to be accurate in the history of old Biloxi, and you know, the seafood industry, the immigrants, the founding of Biloxi and the rather laid-back nightlife and lifestyle that went on for a long time before it was cleaned up.

“I tried to make the book, in the context of pure fiction, accurate and fair because in my opinion, Biloxi has always been one of our more progressive cities, bigger tax base, excellent schools and things like that.“

For Grisham, Biloxi is familiar territory, a fascination that dates back to when he was 12 years old.

“I set ‘The Partner’ there. It involved a Biloxi lawyer who fakes his own death, and runs away to Brazil. One of my favorite books. I set ‘Runaway Jury’ in Biloxi 50 years later. It’s one of my favorite settings. Part of it was set in Mary Mahoney’s. Bob Mahoney still thinks he’s a movie star.

“The place has a very colorful history, unlike the rest of the state in any way.”

For a youngster on baseball diamonds in Southaven, the thought of visiting Biloxi was a reward, Grisham said: “I was a million miles away from Biloxi. I never made the all-star team. The state tournament back then was in Biloxi. We called our all-star team the Biloxi All-Star team because if you made the all-stars in Southaven, you were going to Biloxi.”

Grisham—a “landlocked redneck” in his young days—didn’t see “the ocean” until he was 18 years old, at U.S. 49 and 90, traveling to Biloxi to play American Legion summer baseball.

Later, in college, he started meeting “kids from the Coast.”

“We always called them ‘kids from the Coast,’ he said. “They were always a lot more fun. In law school, I made some good friends from the Coast, Mike Holleman, Mike Gillich’s daughter, Tina Gillich, was in our law school class.

“Then when I got to the Legislature, I started meeting some really good characters from the Coast, elected officials and people like that. You would hear stories about the Dixie Mafia, and it’s been a gradual process over the years. The Coast has always been there for me. I’ve always been fascinated by it.”

While Biloxi serves as a backdrop for the courtroom drama, Grisham says, the characters are fictional: “There’s not a single character based on any real person, except for three or four ex-governors later in the book. Of course, those guys are all dead and they can’t sue you when they’re dead.”

Grisham relied on his Coast contacts—Holleman, Mahoney, Gerald Blessey, Paige Gutierrez— and a couple of retired FBI agents for local color and context.

“The two retired FBI guys were just hilarious,” he said, “because they could tell stories forever.”

Added the author: “All those characters down there that we have all known forever and loved, thank God they are still there. That’s what makes Biloxi a special place.”
Read the synopsis