The Confession – John Grisham – 8/10

“The prosecution’s theory of guilt had been based in part on the desperate hope that one day, someone, somewhere would find Nicole’s body”\

confession

A murderer confesses to a minister. A wrongly convicted man is headed for the death chamber. Can justice prevail?

Grisham is pounding on his social justice soapbox loudly with this one: we hit capital punishment, race relations and church bureaucracy. He’s back to his Street Lawyer activism by writing (I think, anyway; it might all be a ploy to sell more copies). And yet there is a sad despondency to it all; nothing really changes. Without wanting to have spoilers, it doesn’t turn out as well as one might hope, and the epilogue suggests that nothing will ever really change.

Grisham is back to writing memorable characters and in The Confession he has two “good guys” worth talking about (my other favourite Grishams had one very strong lead - The RainmakerThe Street LawyerThe Testament): Robbie Flak and Keith Schroeder. Robbie is brilliantly combative and tender at once; it is clear that the family of the wrongly accused are very close to his heart, but I wouldn’t want to be a politician in his cross-hairs. Schroeder is the opposite – a softly spoken Kansas church minister with a litany of home commitments, who finds his calling in helping a self-confessed murderer and rapist cross state borders to stop misguided justice’s wheels.

As in The Testament there is no shortage to our comic cast of ridicule; Reena Yarber is one of the truest, least self-aware mountains of hypocrisy I’ve ever come across in literature. That she is prepared to exhaust her family and friends to fuel the spiral of her attention-seeking grief makes her eventual mockery on television cruelly suitable. And as for Boyette – no attempts to redeem him from his sleazy, filthy existence are made, he just trundles along being as disgusting as a cloud of noxious cigarette smoke.

The pace drags a little in the build-up: will Boyette go south or won’t he? The race riots are over-built (although still powerful) and there’s too much time spent in the governor’s office. Otherwise, the plot works well – and I was surprised that the book reached a fully fleshed-out conclusion well after the climax, an unfortunately rare occurrence in thrillers.

If you felt Grisham lost his way with Playing for Pizza and The Painted House, he’s back on the road with this one.

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