Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Confession - John Grisham

I reaped the ultimate benefit of the kindle when I was able to download the latest Grisham novel the day it came out - from my lounge chair beside a pool in Bali. Fans of Grisham know that he is no supporter of capital punishment. In 2006, he published his first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, the story of two men wrongly convicted of murder. They both sat on Oklahoma's death row for 11 years before they were exonerated by DNA evidence and released in 1999. The Confession is fiction, but deals with many of the same issues. Donte Drumm, a local black high school football celebrity, is tried for raping and murdering a white cheerleader. He is convicted and sent to Texas's death row, despite the fact that no body was ever found. Days before his scheduled execution, Travis Boyette confesses to the crime. Drumm's lawyers race to the courthouse, to the governor, and to the media, with last minute pleas for Drumm's life. Throughout the story, Grisham explores the various ways in which an innocent man could possibly be convicted of such a heinous crime. There is an eyewitness who seeks to recant his testimony, there is racial tension, there is prosecutorial misconduct in the form of a relationship with the trial judge, and of course, there is a coerced confession. As Grisham lays out the erroneous evidence piece by piece, his explanations almost seem as if he is writing a treatise against the death penalty. There were more than a few occasions where I felt like he had used this fictionalized account as a platform for lambasting the entire capital system - and he did so with a lot of telling, and not always a lot of showing. That being said, Grisham's portrayal of the deterioration, mentally and physically, of Drumm is chilling in its realism, and the reaction of the public and the courts to the 11th hour appeals is all too real. There were times when Grisham's anger with the process hit a little too close to home and I found it difficult to continue reading. The fear, of course, is that people unfamiliar with the system will read this novel and assume that Grisham has exaggerated and created a lovely story that is divorced from reality. But, to the extent people actually realize that these improprieties are occuring, not just once in awhile, but on a regular basis in police interrogation rooms and courtrooms across the nation, I applaud Grisham for his courage in sounding the alarm.

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