John Grisham

The Confession – John Grisham

Title – The Confession

Author – John Grisham

Published – 2010

Genre – Legal thriller

I’ve read a little less in 2017 than in recent years and there haven’t been any particular books that stood out as a ‘five star’ read but by the skin of its teeth this book gets that accolade. Apart from anything else it’s a book that’s haunting me – it’s a number of days since I finished it but I can’t shake off some of the aspects and issues that the book brought up.

Although written some years ago it feels like a particularly timely read and in fact the situation in the US may be worse now than it was when the book was published.

Donté Drumm is four days from execution in Texas for a murder he was found guilty of committing nine years earlier. On the Monday morning Travis Boyette, a serial rapist who is on parole, approaches a priest in a small town in Kansas confessing to the crime for which Donté is due to be executed. Reverend Keith Schroeder knows nothing of the case but when he researches it as quickly as he can he can see the obvious short-comings of the case against the young black boy accused of killing a white woman. Keith must decide what he will do and what he will risk – will he believe the man in front of him and attempt to stop the execution.

In Texas Donté’s passionate lawyer, Robbie Flak, is trying every last option that his team can put together to get a stay on the execution, no matter how unlikely the chances of success.

As the time scheduled for the execution approaches tension on the streets of Donté’s hometown increases as this becomes a clearly divided race issue.

The book offers tension at every turn – will the priest risk committing a crime and aide Boyette to cross the state line, will anyone be able to save Donté, will the tension in the town boil over. And as the present-day story unfolds the reader also finds out more about Donté and his arrest and subsequent confession as well as the damage to his sanity as he spends years on death row.

The book deals with two social issues – the first is the railroading of an innocent black man into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit and then the acceptance of this by those in authority over evidence that contradicts it. The other is the use of the death penalty and the possibility of making the most unthinkable error.

It also touches on grief, I’ve been careful to avoid spoilers and this isn’t one, the family of the murdered young woman see the execution as their right and may not be willing to find that the years they’ve spent hating one person were mis-placed.

The characters are brilliantly well executed (if you’ll excuse the pun). The cautious priest, the zealous lawyer, the damaged young black man, the loathsome felon, the corrupt politicians – they call came to life on the page.

Grisham is known for his activism in trying to exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners and this isn’t appealing to everyone. I’m not sure if there have been any changes in the application of the death penalty since the book was published but it’s a relief that it’s an issue we don’t have to contend with in the UK. Not a cheerful read but one that will make you think and a pacey, twisting thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

1star1star1star1star1star

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Ford County – John Grisham

61avjhwpgxlTitle – Ford County

Author – John Grisham

Published – 2009

Genre – Legal

Ford County is the setting for a number of Grisham’s trademark legal thrillers, including A Time to Kill, and in this case provides the location for a series of short stories.

Following quickly on the heels of 20th Century Ghosts this was another disappointing collection of short stories. I had expected that because the stories shared the same setting that they would have something in common –  a location, a character or similar thread providing a connection, but no. In fact the setting didn’t seem particularly important and if they had been set in a number of different locations I’m not sure it would have made any difference.

The stories themselves were based around a legal premise although not all involved lawyers but for the most part they seemed to lack much in thrills, or legal twists. At best focussing on the characters in the stories and often delivering a moral message these weren’t engaging and I felt as if they were working towards some sort of climax but they failed to carry through.

Not a collection I would recommend.

1star1star

The Associate – John Grisham

Title – The Associate

Author – John Grisham

Published – 2009

Genre – Legal thriller

It seems like a long time since I’ve read anything by Grisham – the fact that this was published in 2009 tells me that it’s at least four years.  Despite that, it all felt very familiar – brilliant legal student Kyle McAvoy has a secret that catches up with him and he becomes embroiled in a world of espionage. Forced to change his plans from working in legal aid helping migrant workers he has no choice but to take a job as an associate working in New York for the largest law firm in the world. I was pleased when it became clear that Kyle wasn’t going to accept the situation and just wait out events, and the bulk of the story is about his efforts to outwit those who have seemingly trapped him.

This is more about spying than it is a courtroom drama but there’s plenty of legal flavour as Kyle gets to grips with his new role. The picture Grisham paints of the dreadful hours and hard work of these lowly “grunts” made me tired just reading it, but a reminder of the ridiculous money involved and the promise of the $$ they can earn as partners does make the sympathy evaporate quite quickly. As ever Grisham’s writing makes an effortless read with plenty of tension and this is ideal beach reading for me (too bad we don’t have the weather for it).

I have seen some reviews that criticise the ending, but whilst it’s actually the sort of end I might be disappointed by I thought the tension kept up until the last page and I was happy with the conclusion of the story.

Score – 4/5