on July 17, 2004
For the most part, I found this entertaining. I was troubled by one thing, though:
The killer sneaked into the victim's house and hid in her closet, surprising her when she opened the closet door. He blindfolded her with a scarf, and cut her panties off with a knife before raping her at knifepoint. He made enough noise to awaken her small children, who came to see what was wrong. When the killer realizes the kids are there, he reacts, and the victim calls out the the kids to run. They run to the next-door neighbor. In the meantime, the killer has been recognized, and he slashes the victim's throat and flees. The neighbor goes to investigate and finds the victim, who has tried to follow the kids and collapsed. Before she dies, she tells him the name of the killer. The children are in shock and are eventually taken to live with realtives. They are too small to testify.
Now, some of this, like the scarf, the closet, cutting the panties could have been discovered during the investigation. But, when the DA cross-examined the killer, he knew things that only the killer, the victim and the children would have known, like that the victim had called to the children to run. The killer was, of course, denying that he was even there. The victim died before she could say more than who did it. The children were too traumatized to tell what they had see. So how, exactly, did the DA know?
on July 8, 2004
Grisham writes some of the smoothest books around, and that
is not a negative comment. His works are so easy-going and
readable, and once started, they are difficult to put down.
This one is also good, but it doesn't seem to have the focus
of the better-known Grisham novels. It is almost like a story
told by an old-timer, where you find it interesting, but you
know if he lost his threat of thought, you wouldn't miss much.
This is the story of a young guy who drifted through college,
and never graduated because his grandmother cut off his money,
and who ended up working as a reporter on a small Mississippi
weekly. But he has barely gotten his feet wet when the old-time
owner/editor comes to an end to his career, and the young guy
get the idea he would like to make something of this small failing paper, and maybe have some fun himself; so he talks his
grandmother into putting up the money to buy the paper,and he
goes to work. Not only does he work, but he begins to try to
ease himself into the small-town society.
He is working hard, and the paper shows promise, when the most
horrible crime in anyone's memory occurs, and he finds himself
in the middle of a very exciting and dangerous time.
A young attractive widow is suddenly attacked, raped and murdered, apparently in front of her two small children, and
the town explodes in hatred toward the obvious culprit.
A very nasty trial takes place, and Grisham describes the jury
proceedings, and it's impact on the small town, as no other
can. The killer is found guilty, but he is spared the death
penalty in a controversal decision by the jury, but after he
is sent off to Parchman prison, the real mystery begins.
The pace is good, and the characters are, for the most part,
readable and interesting.
on June 23, 2004
Not exactly what I'm used to from a Grisham novel, but a decent story nonetheless. Tale is set in Clanton, Mississippi, where a young man with his rich aunt as a benefactor is able to purchase the town's only newspaper, the Times. Circulation is decent at best, until a spectactular murder occurs with a member of the town's most notorious crime family (the Padgitts) as the prime suspect. In a world where justice is for sale and judges are for hire, a jury of 12 of the suspect's peers find him guilty of rape and murder, and sentence him to life--which by Mississippi standards is never any longer than 10 years.
Over the course of the incarceration, Willie Traynor, main character and owner of the times, manages to create a very successful newspaper while writing at times various human interest stories. One story in particular is about one of Clanton's "colored" families; Callie and Esau Ruffin, who reared 8 children, 7 of whom went on despite all of the prejudice to get their doctorate degrees. During the process of writing the story Willie develops a bond with Callie....who also just happens to be one of the twelve jurors who convicted Danny Padgitt of murder. Willie is also busy keeping tabs on Danny, and his parole bids....especially since Danny threatened the lives of the jurors if they ever found him guilty.....
Again, a little slow at first. I think Grisham would have been better served to concentrate more on Padgitt, his incarceration, and the like rather than the friendship/small town happenings aspect of the story. Is Grisham getting soft in his old age??
Not bad, but if you want fast, this is not the one to read.
on June 21, 2004
The first thing that you need to know about this book is that it is not a thriller. The jacket blurb, about a murderer released from prison after threatening to kill the jurors who convicted him, isn't inaccurate as much as it is misleading. For the most part this is a slow-moving book about ten years in the life of a young man who finds himself living in a small Southern town. The murder and trial is almost nothing more than background color, and the jurors don't start dying until 60 pages from the end of the book.
In the middle is Grisham's description of small town life, filled with colorful, even bizarre characters, some of which are carryovers from Grisham's first book, A Time To Kill. For example, the book opens with a gun-toting midget serving legal papers on a newspaper editor named Spot, whose sole passion in life is writing obituaries.
But colorful characters and detailed setting do not a great novel make; this one unfortunately has no point and very little plot. But I will admit that I liked the midget better than the albino monk hit man in a certain other bestseller this year . . .
on June 6, 2004
If I could, I would give this book three and a half stars, but I cannot so therefore I'm going to have to go with my heart and give it three. John Grisham is quite an author as far as churning out engaging bits of prose goes, and that's what this book is, entertainment. This doesn't have the characters or catharsis of the Rainmaker, the suspense and adrenaline of The Firm, or the gripping plot of A Time to Kill; the book is pure entertainment, the literary equivalent of a summer movie- it doesn't really go anywhere but it's fun just to enjoy it while it lasts.
Typically I have a short plot description in my reveiws, but that's where I am drawing a blank. You see, Grisham found a way to traverse over 300 pages without any real semblance of a plot. This is more a story of 9-years in the life of a particular character, Willie Traynor. The book is told from his perspective, in the first person, but yet it is missing the human element that was present in one of Grisham's previous 1st-person efforts, the Rainmaker. Also missing, for the most part, are the humorous asides that protagonist Rudy Baylor made in that novel. Instead, the reader is privy to a dull monlogue of 9 years in Willie Traynor's life.
Fortunately, Willie leads an interesting enough life for me to reccomend the book...he purchases a small-town newspaper in the town of Clanton, Mississipi (which contrary to the advertisements for the novel has been visited since a Time to Kill in "THe Chamber" and "The Summons) and the book revolves around his newspaper, a murder trial in the town, and his relationship with an elderly black woman.
Again, there is nothing groundbreaking here, but if you need some quick entertainment, pick it up. It's loads better than "The Summons" or "The Partner"...but if you can, borrow it from a friend or wait for paperback, it's short and not good enough to merit seventeen dollars.
on May 29, 2004
Grisham's experimentation with new styles and voices has been an interesting journey for his readers. This side trip back to Ford County was his first since The Chamber, cast as a first person account of a young man's pursuit of himself.
The characters were interesting, and the dialog as genuine as Grisham readers have come to expect. One thing I have enjoyed about Grisham's legal novels has been his realistic depictions of many ethical dilemma faced by his protagonists. In The Last Juror, numerous ethical challenges await the young editor whose voice tells the story. The reader is never sure that Willie recognizes that he is straying, which would not be so problematic if we weren't left to doubt whether Grisham recognizes them either. He seems very comfortable with the editor as advocate and participant. Willie makes several decisions that seem unlikely or at best ill-advised that Grisham seems to support.
The book was enjoyable, but I was never tempted to sit up all night to get it finished. On the bright side, I intend to add it to a list of extra-credit readings for my journalism students and challenge them to resolve Willie's problems in ways more appropriate than those he chose.
on May 18, 2004
It is true, The Last Juror is a different style than other Grisham novels. But this is not entirely a bad thing. While his early work had fast-moving stories that kept you reading, the dialogue was often stilted, the characters poorly drawn, and the descriptions hackneyed. That said, they were darn good reads.
The Last Juror is a good read too, but if you pick it up expecting him to rehash The Firm, you'll be disappointed, as witnessed by the number of negative reviews. Personally, I was pleased by the developments in his style. I spent Part 1 being sure I had read this book before. And I had; it bears great resemblance to his earlier work. Part 2 is where it becomes poetic, an homage to slow, small-town Southern life, and the improvements in Grisham's actual wordsmithing become evident.
Part 3 is the weakest - it feels rushed to wrap things up, and the ending was fairly dull. But I was entranced by his descriptions and pleased by how rich and clear Clanton became.
Look, if you want to read The Firm, or A Time to Kill, read them. No one will think less of you. But if you want to chart this author's progress, this book is an excellent example.
on May 3, 2004
The story is engaging in the beginning, but it then moves into several unrelated characters. A large chunk of this book looked like page fillers to me, especially pages full of information about the black woman, having lunch with her every Thursday, etc. I believed all along that Mr. Grisham would somehow connect all the information towards the end and it would make sense then .. but alas that didnt happen.
The story line is good though and it would have been great if he had packed this up into a fast-paced 200-250 page something instead of tonning it up with extraneous information that really didnt add up with the way the conclusion came about.
I suggest that one should read this book with lots of patience and if you feel somewhere along the middle of the book that there is lot of information that doesnt seem central to the book, dont worry .. it doesnt matter even at the end.
To be frank, Mr. Grisham gave me the impression that he was the bored editor of the newspaper like Mr. Willie Traynor.
on April 29, 2004
The protagonist of this book is Willie Traynor, a young man fresh from college who, with the help of his wealthy grandmother, purchases a newspaper, The Ford County Times, in Mississippi. It is 1970 and all is quiet until a local woman is raped and murdered. Now a trial is set to begin with a member of the notorious Padgitt family. The jurors are selected, one of them being the first black female to serve and also a dear friend of Mr. Traynor. The trial is heavily covered in the paper, increasing the sales to Willie's delight. When the convicted, Danny Padgitt, is senctenced to life in prison, the town relaxes...except for those that understand that a life sentence doesn't necessarily mean he will remain in prison for life.1 Tension mounts years later when he is released on parole and deaths occurr once again in the town.
Mr. Grisham is back to writing about the courts and laws, the things I love to read by him. But this book doesn't stick to just the courts. It's more of a mixture between his action packed earlier books (such as The Firm) and his later, low-keyed home town books (such as A Painted House). He spends a great amount of time exploring the lives of various characters, sometimes giving more detail than needed. I found myself becoming bored in spots, wishing for more excitement with Danny Padgitt.
There's little left of small-town life and constructive local newspapers in most of America now. Clearly, John Grisham regrets that and writes nostalgically about Clanton, Mississippi, as seen through the eyes of its one outsider, Willie Traynor, the new owner of the local newspaper. He even makes the drunks charming while smoothing out much of the pain of racism, segregation, the Vietnam War and economic woes. Mr. Grisham is so rosy that he sees the glass as overfilled with goodness. His narrator even visits every local church to report on their services.
So if you like books that portray startling action, baffling mysteries or heart-pounding suspense, this is not the book you are looking for.
While the jacket copy and advertising for the book focus on the trial of obviously guilty Danny Padgitt who raped and murdered a woman while her young children watched, that's just one story among many in the book. The novel builds around a series of short stories about the microcosm of Clanton as it reflected the pressures in the rest of the world. The main focus of the story development is around the growing friendship between young Willie Traynor and Ms. Callie Ruffin, a black mother who has raised an astonishing set of children (all but one of whom have Ph.D.'s). Ms. Ruffin is affected by the murder, having been selected as the last juror for that case.
Although the principles that Mr. Grisham supports are ones that I agree with, his book is so prettied up and simplified that I found much of what he wrote about to be unappealing. There's an Aesop's Fables aspect to the story that makes it feel like it's aimed at children rather than adults. Human errors happen, but they are the exception to the reality. Corruption occurs . . . but it doesn't seem to harm anyone very much. Hatred exists . . . but the harm is mostly in creating homesickness.
Inevitably, anyone who writes about small town Mississippi will be compared to William Faulkner. To compare this book to Mr. Faulkner's work would demean Mr. Faulkner. Stick to the original!