For many years now, John Grisham has been a favorite on my list of beloved authors. Grisham writes legal thrillers such as The Pelican Brief, The Appeal, The Brethren, The Summons, and The King of Torts. But he also writes novels such as A Painted House, Bleachers, Skipping Christmas, and Ford County, which are very different from his legal thrillers.
I think my favorite John Grisham book would have to be one of his most recent, The Confession. The Confession is the tale of a small town Texas high school black football player, Donte, who is accused and convicted of murdering a white cheerleader, Nicole he went to school with, but barely ever spoke to her, if he’d even spoken to her at all.
He is convicted on no evidence, and years later, as his date with the death chamber nears, the man who really killed the cheerleader comes forward. This man, Travis, has a brain tumor and only months, possibly weeks to live, he tells the minister he approaches for help. He claims to want to do the right thing, to be punished for what he’s done wrong, especially since he knows that with such little time to live, he won’t be in prison long.
The problem, however, is that Travis is on parole in Kansas and not allowed to leave the state. In order to confess, he must go to Texas, and he must convince the minister to take him there. Once this hurdle is overcome, the next obstacle is that no one wants to believe Travis.
Travis has proof that he killed Nicole, but he is reluctant to give it up. With only days until Donte is executed, Donte’s lawyer, the minister, and others are pressuring Travis. Travis finally gives in and begins telling them what they need to know, but it’s too late.
It’s too late because the people who could stop Donte’s execution didn’t want to put the execution on hold to check out Travis’s story. Now, with the execution so close, they refuse to hear anything that might give them pause, that might force them to admit that killing Donte is wrong. A judge even goes so far as to ensure that a final appeal cannot be filed, by making sure that the office that receives it is closed.
After Donte’s execution, all the evidence is brought out, including that Travis led police, lawyers and media straight to where he’d buried Nicole. He’d buried Nicole in a place Donte had never been, never even heard of, and certainly couldn’t have gone there and gotten back home with no one noticing.
Apologies are made and Donte’s name is cleared, but Donte is already dead. Apologies and a cleared name do nothing to make his family feel better. There were lawyers, politicians, judges and others in positions of power who didn’t bother to look at the evidence being presented to them, or who deliberately tried to prevent the evidence from becoming public knowledge. What does begin to heal Donte’s family is when the actions of those people begin to become public knowledge.
The public is outraged to realize that an innocent man was not only convicted, but executed for a crime he didn’t commit.
The reason I love this book is that it really makes you think about the death penalty. Grisham creates characters that you can’t help but love or hate, depending on whether they are hero or villian. He creates characters that you believe, that you can relate to and sometimes even remind you of people you know. In this book, he created an innocent man who, when executed, readers actually cry for and feel as though an innocent man has actually been killed, rather than a character in a fictional novel. But it’s also a reminder that thought this is a fictional novel, this is something that can, and does, happen in the real world. The justice system is flawed, and innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, and sometimes sentenced to die, while true criminals walk free.
With 21 published books, and the 22 nd coming out later this year, Grisham is a very prolific writer who always manages to capture his readers. While you would expect that an author writing legal thrillers would eventually get repetitive, Grisham isn’t. He manages to bring a fresh, new plot to each of his books. His books are never boring, and always believable. Even if you’re not well-versed in the law, you can see that Grisham clearly has an excellent grasp of it.
His grasp of the law isn’t all that surprising, considering he was a lawyer before becoming a writer. His childhood dream was to be a professional baseball player. Upon realizing that that wasn’t going to happen, he decided to major in accounting, and went to law school. Practicing in a small town in Mississippi, he wrote his first book, A Time to Kill, in his off hours. After writing his second book, The Firm, and sold the film rights, and from there, his career took off.
Grisham is married, and has 2 children. He and his family have a home in Mississippi and one in Virginia, and he found a unique way to keep his baseball dream alive: he is the local Little League Commissioner.