Nine years ago, Travis Boyette raped and murdered a popular high school student in Sloan Texas. To his amazement, Donte Drumm, the school's football star, was wrongly convicted of his heinous crimes and sent to death row. Now, Travis, who has an inoperable brain tumor and is stricken with guilt, decides to confess in a bid to save Donte, who has just four days before his execution.
The novel is still worth reading, but it's certainly not one of Grisham's best.
John Grisham's THE CONFESSION confronts us with the worst nightmare of the system - the possibility of executing an innocent - and, in so doing, highlights the serious flaws in the way capital punishment is practiced in the United States. Even if one is not an abolitionist, even if one reluctantly believes - as I have - that such an extreme measure should be available for the worst outrages against safety and society, intellectual and moral honesty compels one to admit that such errors can occur, and likely have already done so. If execution is to be available, something must be done to guard against such an occurrence.
The book is not a dry, legal treatise. The reader is brought quickly into the count-down through the eyes of the frantic defense attorney, the families of the murder victim and the condemned man counting down his last days, and the Lutheran minister who must decide if the dying man confronting him in his church office, and claiming to be the real killer, is credible enough to risk his church, his family, and perhaps his freedom to right a faraway wrong. Grisham has long been noted as one of our best story-tellers, and he doesn't fail here.
Read it, and then ponder its issues.
Usually, his novels run 300 pages and at times have ended abruptly. Grisham did not limit himself this time and the story unfolded over 515 pages. The size was necessary to the story and had he tried to edit it to less pages and words, I think the telling of the story would have suffered.
In this book, unlike others, there were a few more twists and I would say, more of a realistic reflection on what happens. The day was not saved. An innocent man was put to death despite the race against time in the first third of the book. There were also some story lines that were set up and got you thinking that something might happen that did not play out. A little bit of mystery.
There were a lot of characters - more than the average for one of his novels. Paths converged but there were enough characters that left you with some to like and to some to hate and some not to feel anything about. Like many books, there were a few things that happened that were either unbelievable or unlikely but these did not detract from the bigger story.
Having worked for many years in the legal business I enjoyed the truth of justice not being black and white. I also enjoyed the truth that there are a lot of corrupt people in this business. Many cops, many attorneys and many judges. Don't be fooled into thinking idealistically about those who are supposed to uphold the law. More often than not, they are driven by self interest and politics, egotistical narcissism and corruption. The bigger the legal issue, the more likely to find these qualities and they were all in display in The Confession.
Grisham is my little escape between other reads because I know it will be a fast read and I will be fully engaged. 48 hours well spent. If you can enjoy a biased opinion on the death penalty, you will probably really enjoy this book. If an opinion that doesn't jive with yours drives you crazy - give this one a miss and read The Firm. It's my other favorite Grisham.
Up to the point at which the will he wont he be executed question is resolved some two thirds of the way along I struggled to pick up the book, though the political aftermath provided more interesting material and the finale of cover up and the likelihood of further injustices. My preference would be for real life over fiction as a more powerful and courageous way to make the point that where the death penalty exists, racism, greed and political ambition overide any considerations of justice and taking of the innocent life of a powerless individual.
Grisham briefly comes into his own at the end in setting a scene where the dignified actions of the aggrieved and bereaved face down an inflamed and violent racial situation threatening to engulf a whole town, and that dignity is seized upon by self serving politicians on the brink of oblivion to snuff out fires of change in favour of their prefered status quo.
I was left with a sense that Grisham may have exhausted this seam and that The Confession is the disappointing and perhaps understandble result of pressure to deliver yet another blockbuster. I can't see myself picking up another Grisham in favour of other reading unless the word is that he has turned his talented hand to something different or that he has rediscovered his early zest.
Grisham explores the errors that can plague an emotionally charged case: bad cops who use brawn and intimidation, the media visibity of emotionally wrought victims, prosecutors being steadfastly result orientated, appellate courts rubber stamping and affirming, all of which results in the voices of the innocent being ignored, being disregarded or flat out being denied.
Of course, when the crime is henious, such as the murder of a young girl (here a 17 year old white cheerleader from Texas), the public cry for retribution is loud. And the many characters in the City of Sloan team together to deliver a result.
Grisham tends to have characters in the extreme--the good ones are wholly good and the bad ones are wholly bad. I know this going into the story, so I don't get distracted. I think that formula works well in The Confession, leaving the reader to truly consider the implications of the Death Penalty.
After being a life time supporter, I remain committed to pursue death if appropriate as per my job, but personally, I am struggling with the reality of it. Whether that is from age, life experiences, or my Christian view, I am not sure, but this book certainly brought that debate back into the forethought of my mind.
In North Carolina, work in the SBI laboratory has been shoddy, and has already led to the release of innocent men. Just think how many innocent people are languishing in jails and
prisons because prosecuting attorneys and local law enforcement have taken it upon themselves to decide guilt or innocence.
Donté Drumm has been found guilty of killing Nicole, a Texas high school cheerleader, and sits on death row awaiting his execution. Long professing his innocence, no one else believes in him but his lawyer and his family.
Just a few days before his execution, Keith, a minister in Kansas, meets Travis Boyette, a man on parole who confesses that he murdered Nicole.
The next few days are a race against time as Keith, Boyette, and Donté's lawyer try to stop the execution.
The Confession is a powerful book with strong, believable characters and gives a realistic perspective on the death penalty issue.