by John Grisham
John Grisham delivers his most extraordinary legal thriller yet. Filled with the intriguing twists and turns that have become Grisham’s trademark, this newest novel will prove once again that no one keeps readers in suspense like America’s favorite storyteller. An innocent man is days from execution. Only a guilty man can save him.
For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of his crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed.
Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.
Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess.
But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?
My Thoughts: What an emotional read! Grisham always knows how to stir up the controversy, and this makes for an edge of your seat read. My only complaint, and what keeps this from being 5 stars, is that the book is decidedly anti-death penalty and presents everyone on the pro-death penalty side as unsympathetic. The story is of Donte Drumm, innocent and awaiting execution for the murder of Nicole Yarber. Donte is black, Nicole was white. Her body was never found, there is no physical evidence against Donte, and he was convicted based mostly on a coerced confession and a false (purposely so) witness. The book really helps you understand how someone could be forced to confess despite their innocence, especially a scared 18 year high school kid. The true killer is thrilled to have gotten away with his crime and only comes forward a few days before the execution. Nicole’s mother, Reeva, is the character I have the most problem with. It’s hard to be sympathetic towards her, because she’s portrayed as being very attention seeking and is quite vocal in calling for Donte’s death. As the reader, you already know that Donte is innocent, but Reeva believes the police and prosecutors and thinks Donte killed her daughter. I think making her a little less crazy, a little less fake, would have made for a far more interesting character. Donte’s lawyer, Ronnie, is completely against the death penalty and has nothing but contempt for those that are for it, and yet when confronted with the real killer he is tempted to kill him for what he has done to the Drumm family. I think that’s a very human response. The real killer, Travis, is hard to feel sympathy for despite his sad childhood.
The ending of the book was not what I was expecting, but I think it’s a better book because of it. Be prepared to get emotional, and at times uncomfortable. The book also brings up issues of race, and riots, and in someways it remind of Grisham’s A Time To Kill. In fact, I’m looking forward to the movie!