Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Confession

I rarely read John Grisham books on a regular basis anymore. Like many authors who churn out a book or two every year (Stephen King), their stories become stale and lack the punch of earlier writings. I began reading "The Confession" (418 pages) simply because it was available, a Christmas present from my mom. From the inside cover of the book:

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?

"The Confession" was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, Grisham is a fine storyteller who usually plucks controversial stories that are timely, in this case the possibility of the state execution of an innocent man. On the other hand the novel seems to be another by-the-numbers effort for Grisham, while written well, it just doesn't have the spark and humor of her earlier works, it just feels like I've been there and done that before. In Grisham's defence at least he can still finish a book that leaves the reader somewhat satisfied.

I enjoyed the central focus of the book, namely the death penalty in Texas, and the process by which appeals are made at the last minute and denied. Grisham, as is often the case, draws a thick line between his heroes and villains in this novel, the liberal defense attorney versus the conservative Texas detective, prosecutor, and even Governor. While I appreciate his sentiments being liberal myself and against the state taking lives, I just think that maybe the situations and characters aren't so black and white in the real world.

An easy and quick read by an author who usually knows what he's talking about when it comes to legal procedure. I enjoyed the overall premise of the novel: what would happen if an innocent man was executed in Texas? My complaints are more with the author and less with the story. As prolific as Grisham has become it's hard to not have a feeling of deja vu when reading his later works. Recommended for fans of John Grisham and fans of the genre.

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