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Book Review – The Confession by John Grisham

January 9, 2011 4 comments

Book Description:

An innocent man is about to be executed. 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?

*

I’ve been disappointed by John Grisham’s most recent efforts, so I wasn’t really sure I wanted to read his latest legal thriller The Confession. But it has a hell of a plot – what do you do if a career criminal/sex offender confesses to you for a rape/murder, and it just happens that an innocent man has been railroaded into a conviction for it and is scheduled to be executed any day now? And how do you go about convincing the authorities?

How could I resist? I was just hoping that this wasn’t going to turn out to be another ‘The Appeal‘ (one of the worst books John Grisham has ever written – see my previous review). Well, after slogging through The Confession‘s three parts (The Crime, The Punishment and The Exoneration), I can say that while the new book doesn’t quite measure up to the best that John Grisham can offer (like A Painted House), it’s nowhere as bad as The Appeal. The plot is pretty straightforward – we the readers follow in suspense as minister Keith Schroeder and the reluctant confessor Travis Boyette go on the road to try to exonerate Donté Drumm, while Donté’s legal team (headed by the fiery Robbie Flak) pulls out all the stops to try to get a stay in his execution … will they be in time to save Donté’s life versus a bereaucracy (Court of Appeals, Texas Governor) determined to go through with the execution? Grisham incorporates a lot of realism in it, especially during Part 2: The Punishment where we meet all the machinery involved in getting a man efficiently executed in the great state of Texas. (Emphasis on the realistic portrayal – I felt like I was counting down the excruciating minutes with the characters) And this is all against the backdrop of throbbing racial unrest in the condemmed man’s home city (Donté is an African-American convicted by an all-white judge/jury).

The book felt so much longer than it was though, there were parts that just dragged and felt very tedious – like Grisham was trying to draw it out for suspense, but I just felt frustrated in response. And while the legal parts felt realistic to me, Grisham falls short with his characterization. Like in The Appeal, the good guys are really good, and the bad guys are pretty bad. Grisham draws sympathetic pictures of Donté Drumm, his family and his legal team, and that’s okay – I get why he wrote them that way – but the bad guys (detective Drew Kerber, DA Paul Koffee, the politicians, etc etc) might as well have been holding up placards saying ‘Villain’, ‘Bigot’ and ‘Loser’ to their faces. Pretty much overkill. I mean, I get that the whole book tries to present a case against death penalty, and John Grisham definitely has very strong views about this issue (“He is on the Board of Directors of the Innocence Project in New York and is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law.”), but by making his characters what they were, there’s no debate needed in this story. Anybody – even someone passionately for the death penalty – would be against the railroading of a young man as innocent as Donté Drumm versus a system with a face as corrupt as Drew Kerber & Paul Koffee.

But like I said, The Confession has one hell of a story to tell, with a really good inside-look at the legal/justice system – plus it’s a much better effort than some of Grisham’s last books. I just wish that Grisham wasn’t so darned preachy about it.

The Confession by John Grisham is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition ($9.99), Hardcover ($15.05), Mass Market Paperback ($9.99) or Audiobook ($21.12).

The eBook is also available for $9.99 on B&N Nook, Kobo books and Sony eBookstore.

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