Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: The Confession by John Grisham

Title: The Confession
Author: John Grisham
Publisher: Random House Audio (audiobook on CD)
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:
For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of his crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed. 

Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess.

But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?

My Review:
Everyone's read John Grisham before.  That's a requirement these days, isn't it?  (I probably shouldn't say that, seeing as how I've never read Nora Roberts or James Patterson...)  But I think it's safe to assume most readers are pretty familiar with Grisham's genre, even if they haven't read one of his books.  He specializes in the legal thriller, usually pinpointing a particular issue that's made a recent splash in the media.  I went on a Grisham kick a few years ago, burned out (started to get courtroom-induced brain spasms), and now decided I was ready to jump in again.

I listened to this one on audio CD during my commutes over the last month.  I'll start with the narration and writing.  The narrator, Scott Sowers, was a little tough for me to follow at first--some of his voices between characters were too similar, leaving me confused at the beginning when I was still trying to figure out who everyone was (it is a LARGE cast of characters).  But after a disc or two, I had it figured out, and I thought his tone/accent were pretty fitting to the East Texas setting.  I especially enjoyed his voices for Travis Boyette (CREEPY) and The Monk (reminded me of the nerdy teacher in the movie Clueless).

The writing is pretty typical to most other Grisham novels that I've read.  It's concise, explaining the legal elements in laymen's terms without much technical jargon.  Lots of dialogue, lots of drama.  Easy to follow and easy to read (I would imagine).  I've never encountered a Grisham book that wasn't easy vacation-type reading (explaining why his books are available in every Hudson News airport kiosk, ever).

In terms of plot, I'd say the story moved along well, but the climax happened a little too early.  (Insert R-rated joke here.)  The novel jumps right in with Travis's confession, which pulls you in immediately.  And the action leading up to Donte's execution date was awesome--I had some commutes that left me sitting in my car for a few minutes after I parked, because I had to know what happened.  But after the execution day drama (which did NOT go as I expected, but I'm not going to spoil that for ya), I still had 3-4 CDs left, and for a while it just dragged.  Eventually it did pick up a little at the end, but there are several scenes after the "big day" that left me feeling like I was just killing time until the next legal issue could be resolved.

I thought Grisham's handling of the death penalty as a political issue was interesting, especially with the setting in a high execution state like Texas.  I can't discuss it too much without giving up the good stuff, but I think he brought forth a good mix of challenging the current laws, while also being realistic about how possible changes to those laws might be viewed in the state.

Overall?  It's a solid legal thriller that won't hurt your brain with too much technical detail, but could still get a good political debate going.  The plot isn't overly predictable.  The ending leaves something to be desired.  It feels like a cop-out to say it's "typical Grisham", but it is!  Not award-winning stuff, but enough to keep you entertained (and feeling mildly intelligent) the next time you need a quick read.

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