The Chamber

by John Grisham

Hardcover, 1994



In Mississippi, a young lawyer races against time to save his grandfather from the gas chamber. The grandfather was tried three times for a Ku Klux Klan bombing which killed two civil rights workers in 1967. He was found innocent twice, but guilty the third time. By the author of A Time To Kill.

Library's rating


(1275 ratings; 3.4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ctmsnaco
The Chamber tells about a guy named Sam Cayhall, condemned to the gas chamber because of a hideous and brutal crime he committed in the late 1960′s against a Jewish lawyer who helped people with civil rights get justice. Cayhall was an accomplice in setting a timed clock bomb that destroyed the lawyer’s office and unintentionally killed the lawyer’s two twin boys John and Josh. With just a month before his execution date, Cayhall’s grandson, a young lawyer from Kravitz and Bane named Adam Hall, arrives on the scene to save the day.The Chamber forces the reader to sit with the idea of the death penalty. Thankfully, John Grisham does not make Cayhall out to be the victim. The crimes are described in horrific and disturbing detail, and we later discover that Cayhall was guilty of even more egregious and horrendous sins than the one when he killed the little Kramer boys for which the government wants to execute him. As the characters remember past events, the picture of doing horrible and its consequences and karma becomes more and more disturbing and wicked. Cayhall’s son Eddie Cayhall commits suicide. The Jewish lawyer whose sons were killed in the bombing is paralyzed and wants justice for his sons but later kills himself, Cayhall’s daughter lee becomes an alcoholic and spends significant time in rehab. While the father Sam Cayhall shows no remorse for his actions, the children suffer under unbearable guilt and shame for what is father did. I have never read a book that so clearly demonstrates how one man can have no remorse for a hideous crime he committed nor try to have remorse. But there is some what redemption here, too. As the book progresses, Cayhall’s defenses begin to fall and he starts to face his death. He becomes patient. He looks forward to his visits with a young minister. By the end, he is ready to face death and to meet his Maker. I recommend The Chamber for its destructive force it leaves in its wake, but also for the redemption that can come to even the most hardened criminal.… (more)
LibraryThing member eheleneb3
I feel about this book the way I feel about most of Grisham's books, with the possible exception of A Time to Kill: It is overly sentimental and trite and he has taken an extreme situation and manipulated it to seem like the norm.

That being said, it is a thrilling page-turner, and Grisham accurately captures that warm yet ruthless feeling of the "South" and of being "Southern." The flashbacks to racism and a world where it was acceptable to be a member of the KKK are fascinating.… (more)
LibraryThing member donttalktofreaks
The best of all Grisham's books. Adam, a rookie lawyer, takes the pro bono case to get his grandfather's impending execution delayed or pardoned. This books goes a little deeper into the character development than most Grisham books.
LibraryThing member CaptKirk
I read it, but it didn't set well with me. Since I lean more toward the death penalty, it set me on edge knowing the book had a decidedly anti-death penalty slant. I'd prefer Mr. Grisham leave his personal ideas and beliefs out of his stories. Seemed to be a little politically motivated.
LibraryThing member dividedblue_eyedsky
I have to say I was disappointed in this book, very well told story. But the result I knew would happen did not that even as I was reading it would expect anything different. Very well written but I feel that I was let down by the ending. Not one of my favorites from John Grisham.
LibraryThing member mazda502001
Quite a good book but found it plodding in parts. Not one of his best.

Back Cover Blurb:
This Grisham novel is about a rookie lawyer engaged in defending a member of the Ku Klux Klan who is being held on Death Row. The lawyer detests his client's racism, but as the case develops, it appears that his client may be innocent.… (more)
LibraryThing member Anagarika-Sean
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It deals with an issue close to my heart.
LibraryThing member tetchechury
A decent John Grisham book, but not one of my favorites.
LibraryThing member benjamin.duffy
This was another mediocre Grisham book, but at least it was not a cookie-cutter one. Whereas most of Grisham's novels feature bad-ass lawyers doing cool stuff, the main lawyer in this one was young and way over his head.

Not having seen the movie before reading the book (or since, for that matter), I was not expecting the defense to fail and Cayhall to actually be executed. That was an invigorating surprise. And the depiction of the execution itself was nicely written and rather touching, with little details like Cayhall seeing that the shoes from his pre-execution outfit were too big, and realizing it didn't matter. One of the best scenes Grisham ever wrote, in my opinion.

But not enough to save this book.
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LibraryThing member ecw0647
I have polished several John Grisham novels (mostly when I should have been doing something useful like working on the house or yard, but what the heck, life’s too short). I suppose we have a tendency to denigrate his books; too popular with the masses, but he really does know how to write a good plot that keeps the pages turning. He also must really hate lawyers, because in each of these novels the way the lawyers operate would make a barracuda blush with shame. In addition to turning out god stories, when I look at his most recent work, he is clearly emphasizing community values in the South during the fifties and sixties as well as the dynamics families under pressure of those relationships between blacks and whites.
The Chamber is a good example. If anyone deserves to die it’s Sam Cayhall. He’s on death row in a Mississippi prison following the delayed conviction for the deaths of two children at the 1967 bombing of a Jewish lawyer’s office. The children were not supposed to be there when the bomb went off, but because the timing mechanism on the bomb had been misset. Iut took three trials to convict him, and he’s now a seventy-year-old frail old man, but still unrepentent. Adam Hall, his grandson, whose parents had changed their name in a rejection of their parent’s values and moved away. Adam had attended law school where he became obsessed with his grandfather’s case and the death penalty. He joins the law firm that had been working on Sam’s case and persuades them to send him down to fight the death penalty with only thirty days left before he goes to the gas chamber. Adam learns about the destructive relationship of his father, the intense and unrepentant racism of his grandfather, and the hugely destructive impact all of this had on the family. It’s a race against time as he discovers a sub-plot that could exonerate his grandfather. Grisham is clearly against the death penalty and the details he provides are gruesome in the extreme. A very interesting page-turner, very different from his earlier work.

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LibraryThing member RudyJohnson
Mr. Grisham delivers another Legal Thriller.

Mr. Grisham is one of my favorite authors and I thought this novel was an excellent and compelling story. Actually, I thought this book was a notch or two above "The Firm and The Pelican Brief", which I enjoyed tremendously. The book starts off a bit slow and then picks up the pace as you the reader become involved with the young lawyer as tries to save his grandfather from the gas chamber for the murder of a father and two children. Overall, I would gladly recommend this novel by an author that knows how to deliver a thrilling story.… (more)
LibraryThing member suvarob
One of Grisham's best
LibraryThing member Icefirestorm
Very long, but very good. It certainly makes you think.
LibraryThing member RudyJohnson
Mr. Grisham delivers another Legal Thriller.

Mr. Grisham is one of my favorite authors and I thought this novel was an excellent and compelling story. Actually, I thought this book was a notch or two above "The Firm and The Pelican Brief", which I enjoyed tremendously. The book starts off a bit slow and then picks up the pace as you the reader become involved with the young lawyer as tries to save his grandfather from the gas chamber for the murder of a father and two children. Overall, I would gladly recommend this novel by an author that knows how to deliver a thrilling story.… (more)
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
John Grisham writes a pretty good book, but his endings are awful. He doesn't end a book -- he simply quits writing. I didn't have an issue with Sam's fate -- he was, after all, a murderer. But Grisham dropped too many other threads, including the identity of the real guilty party. I can think of at least three other ways to have ended this book, each of which would have been more satisfying without being cliche. What the book needed was justice, even if it was dealt out underhandedly. -1996… (more)
LibraryThing member NaggedMan
I really liked it - characterisations, plot, interest.
LibraryThing member ChrisNewton
Tedious. I only finished it because I was on a long road trip and had nothing else to read in the motel nights. Takes forever to get going, the characters aren't really that interesting. Maybe I just don't like legal thrillers. On the other hand, there is nothing in the story that could legitimately be called thrilling.… (more)
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Standard Grisham that rates three stars because it does make one think about the death penalty. Also reveals a lot about the appeals process - with most of the suspense over the timing involved.
LibraryThing member christinejoseph
he always intrigues you right away!

In the corridors of Chicago's top law firm:
Twenty -six-year-old Adam Hall stands on the brink of a brilliant legal career. Now he is risking it all for a death-row killer and an impossible case.

Maximum Security Unit, Mississippi State Prison:
Sam Cayhall is a former Klansman and unrepentant racist now facing the death penalty for a fatal bombing in 1967. He has run out of chances -- except for one: the young, liberal Chicago lawyer who just happens to be his grandson.
While the executioners prepare the gas chamber, while the protesters gather and the TV cameras wait, Adam has only days, hours, minutes to save his client. For between the two men is a chasm of shame, family lies, and secrets -- including the one secret that could save Sam Cayhall's life... or cost Adam his.
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LibraryThing member lewilliams
To detailed and much to long and drawn out. I lost interest half way through and did not finis this book.
LibraryThing member EmScape
A fascinating account of one man's final days on Death Row. Sam Cayhall was accused and convicted of a bombing that resulted in the death of two young boys and the dismemberment of their father, a Jewish attorney in Mississippi in the 1960's. With a month to go before his execution, his long-lost grandson appears, offering to be his lawyer. Adam Hall wasn't aware of his grandfather's existence, much less his history until he was 17. Adam immediately decides to become an attorney in order to help Sam.
At the beginning of the book, the reader is disgusted with Sam and his actions and unclear why Adam wishes to engage in a family relationship with such a reprehensible man, but as the story plays out Sam becomes an almost sympathetic character.
As with all Grisham novels, the facts and procedure is exhaustively researched and accurate. An impressive novel, but a bit dry in parts.
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LibraryThing member herebedragons
Great legal thriller.
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
3.5 stars

Adam Hall is a new lawyer. In Mississippi, Sam Cayhall, a (former) KKK member, is on death row for bombing a building in 1967 where a Jewish lawyer worked; the bomb went off when the lawyer’s 5-year old twin sons were there and both were killed. When Adam learns that Sam is his grandfather (Adam was only 3 when his father left Mississippi and changed all their names so as to not be associated with his own racist KKK father), he decides to head to Mississippi to fight the death sentence against Sam.

This was good, but maybe not quite as good as many of Grisham’s others. I think it was a bit slower. There were sort of two parts to it: the legal case being made and the pro/con death penalty, but also the story of a family with secrets, as Adam and Sam (and Adam and his aunt, Sam’s daughter) get to know each other. I thought about upping my rating just a little bit at the end, but decided I’d stick with how I felt through the majority of the book and go with 3.5 stars “good”.
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LibraryThing member Carl_Alves
I’m not the biggest fan of John Grisham, and it has been years since I last read anything from him. Reading The Appeal reminded me why I’m not a fan of John Grisham, despite the author’s immense success. For starters, as an author, the best I can say about the skill level of his writing is that he’s a mediocre writer, and that’s being kind. Specifically, I didn’t care for the constant point of view shifts that made it difficult to follow, and the generally sloppy narration. But that is not nearly as bad as the complete lack of believability.

I get that this is a work of fiction. However, it’s fiction that is grounded in reality, yet it’s so outlandish that it’s more fantasy than legal drama. First off, there’s this thing called the EPA, and if Crane Chemical was as egregious as they were made out to be, the EPA would shut them down in about 3.5 seconds. Second, the handling of the stock price of Crane Chemical rising and falling was laughable as a lifelong investor in the stock market. Third, the generic evil corporate titan, Carl Trudeau, could not possibly ever own eighty percent of the stock of a Fortune 500 publicly traded company.

Where else did this novel fall short? I am so tired of the generic, evil, soulless corporate entity. It is so utterly cliché in novels of all stripes. Authors, please get some originality. Carl Trudeau is a pathetic, one dimensional cartoonish character. Grisham clearly has an axe to grind. So much of this novel felt preachy and he would go off on his bully pulpit beating down his positions that he made very clear. The one positive is that I did enjoy the whole race for the state Supreme Court. It was the one bright spot in the novel.

Carl Alves – author of Blood Street
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LibraryThing member gogglemiss
Really compelling story, and I couldn't help but get really involved in it. The ending really sucks, though.


Doubleday (1994), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 496 pages

Original publication date





0385424728 / 9780385424721


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