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Ford County

Thrillmeister John Grisham tries his hand at a collection of short stories set in rural north Mississippi.

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After 21 best-selling novels, John Grisham can do whatever he wants. And what he wants, at the moment, is to write short stories. Thus Ford County, the seven-story collection just published and set in the fictional rural North Mississippi enclave he created in his first book, “A Time to Kill.” Grisham’s short stories are a decidedly mixed bag, demonstrating both his strengths (legal chicanery and legal maneuvering) and weaknesses (stock characters and dialogue).

Give him credit for not coasting, though. There are plenty of lawyers in these tales, to be sure, but there is also a young dying AIDS patient ostracized by his small hometown; a grieving father hell-bent on avenging legal injustice and, most entertaining of all, a trio of wayward 20-somethings entrusted with making a much-needed blood donation on behalf of an injured neighbor.

These last appear in the collection’s first story, “Blood Drive,” a picaresque that sends the three young men from Box Hill, Mississippi, to Memphis. A neighbor’s son, injured in a construction accident, is in the hospital and needs blood.

Calvin, Roger, and Aggie wind up shotgunning six-packs on rural roads and, as the evening drags on, their blood donation occurs at a Memphis blood bank rather than the hospital. It’s a nod to their desire to scrounge up money for a strip club rather than visit their injured neighbor in the hospital and help him out.

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