The Confession – John Grisham

Earlier this year I was hooked on the BBC documentaries, Life and Death Row. The circus that is involved in carrying out of the death penalty in America was quite shocking to me. In so many ways the UK are a similar nation to the USA but we are also different in just as many. Whether you agree or disagree with the death penalty, one thing you hope is that they are sure beyond reasonable doubt that the person going to gurney is guilty. It is scary how many times this proves not to be the case and other factors such as the drugs used to kill them are running out of licence or it is election time.

A friend of mine recommended I read The Confession by John Grisham. I’ve never read a Grisham novel before so I was intrigued. He was the king of movie adaptations in the 90s with The Firm, The Client and The Runaway Jury.

The Confession centres around Donte Drumm, a young black American footballer who is wrongly convicted of the murder of a high school cheerleader and his fight for justice when the real killer emerges days before the execution is due to be carried out. This was surely inspired by real life attorney Grisham’s work with The Innocence Project, an organisation in America which uses DNA evidence to re-examine cases of prisoners who are languishing on Death Row.

All the characters you would want in a scenario such as this are present, the renegade lawyer who is determined to prove Drumm’s innocence, a pastor racing against the clock to bring the real murderer to justice, the victim’s mother turned media star and more crooked officials than you can shake a stick at.

I wished I had had a beach to chill out on while I devoured this book as it begs to be read in a few sittings rather than catching moments on the train or at your desk at lunchtime. The first 75% is seriously gripping and it’s been a while since I enjoyed a book so avidly. The last 25% is a little slow and feels drawn out; it could have been shorter and left more time to explore some of the key relationships in the bulk of the book.

Grisham’s style of storytelling is interesting. This is clearly a very heavy topic which challenges your perception of the justice system over the pond as well as the deep seated racism which cannot be ignored. However the writing is incredibly accessible and you never feel preached at, although there is no mistaking the author’s views on these matters. Either way, he clearly knows the mechanisms of the law intricately and used real life cases as inspirations for elements of the story.

The sections blend together perfectly and the narrative speed is just the right side of too fast which keeps its reader engaged pretty much all the way through.

As always, my reviews will remain spoiler free but I will say that the twists and turns of this novel will keep you guessing in much the same way as the BBC documentary which led me to this book and leaves you wondering if anyone really benefits from the death penalty or if there is a better way.

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