on October 27, 2010
I am an avid reader and have read countless legal thrillers over the years. As a retired Federal Judge with 24 years of experience, I can tell you that you will never find a more realistic portrait of how the legal system works and, more importantly, how often it does not. Run do not walk to your bookstore and grab this one. You won't be sorry.
Less than a week before the scheduled execution of Donté Drumm, convicted ten years ago for a murder he did not commit, the real killer steps forward. Travis Boyette, a convicted serial rapist on parole, approaches Keith Schroeder (a Christian minister) in Topeka and confesses to the murder. Boyette has an inoperable brain tumour, and feels bad about sending an innocent man to his death.
Reluctantly, Keith Schroeder agrees to drive Boyette to the town where the murder occurred in the hope that a confession will stop the scheduled execution of Drumm. Keith Schroeder joins forces with Donté Drumm's defence lawyer, Robbie Flak in the hope that they can at least halt the scheduled execution until Boyette's story is checked.
I enjoyed the first two thirds of this novel. While character development was sketchy, the urgency of the situation kept me turning pages. The facts about the case, the flimsy `evidence' upon which Donté Drumm was convicted all heightened the tension, especially when one of the witnesses admitted that he had falsely testified and as Boyette's claims are tested.
But then the narrative changed. The fiction became a vehicle against the death penalty and thriller became propaganda. This diminished the impact of the story, reduced my enjoyment of it and is reflected in my rating.
Reviewers should keep their own political views on the back burner when they review books. Bashing a book when you disagree, or lavishing it when you agree misses the point. I read these reviews mostly to find out one thing: is this a good book, or not?
The Confession is a legal thriller by an accomplished writer, one who became famous by writing legal thrillers. I loved Grisham's early books, reading each one eagerly, glued to the pages, and disappointed when I finished, realizing that I had to wait a long time for the next one. Somewhere along the way Grisham lost his mojo, and, unfortunately, he hasn't fully regained it. Maybe I am not the same reader that I was when I read The Firm in 1991. Try as I might, I couldn't get excited about this one.
This story was written as a political statement. Fiction that serves to prove a point requires a skillful narrator, or it risks becoming tedious. There are some great writers who wrote great novels as a form of political expression, like Dickens, Warren and Ellison. Grisham is not in their league. Grisham's talents as a writer are good enough to bring this readable novel to fruition, but it has some problems: The plot is not believable enough for my liking, and characters on one side of the issue are created as likeable, basically good people, while those on the opposite side are completely bad. The story lacks realism.
Donte , who is at the center of the novel, is a sympathetic figure, but he remains a figure, not a person whom the reader really knows. Keith , the well intentioned pastor who brings the killer to Texas, may be the best described personality, but he is bland and boring. The story builds suspense in the second half, and I willingly read to the end, although I was pretty sure where it was going. This was just a fair novel, with the story in the back seat, and the message driving. I prefer the opposite.
on October 28, 2010
If you've read John Grisham in the past, then it's fairly obvious where he stands on the subject of capital punishment. Perhaps you agree with his position, and perhaps you do not. I, for one, will not dismiss and actor or musician or an author because of politics. In my opinion, a good movie is a good movie , a good song is a good song, and good book is a good book. This is a good book. Fast-paced, and with some very entertaining characters, I found myself unable to put it down.
on December 27, 2010
I am a big fan of John Grisham's writing style, and The Confession was the first e-book I purchased for my new Kindle. Like his previous novels, The Confession is a smooth read; I finished it in just over a day. Grisham has a knack for interspersing engaging dialogue and narrative, and he knows how to end a chapter leaving you with a desire to read the next.
But with all due respect to Grisham's writing ability, reading The Confession is a lot like riding a carousel. It has all the expected ups and downs and turns, which sometimes make for a pleasurable experience. But it doesn't take you anyplace new, and you know how it's going to end. And all the characters are plastic.
For a subject as complex and multi-faceted as the death penalty, you would expect a little nuance from an author as intelligent as Grisham. Alas, there is none to found in The Confession. I would describe the theme of the book as: "If you support the death penalty, then you are ignorant, racist, and un-Christian. If you oppose the death penalty, you are a saint and a hero. Period." Nearly all the villains in this book work for the government: from the unscrupulous detective to the conviction-hungry prosecutor to the corrupt judge to the uncaring appeals courts to the cocky demagogue of a governor. Heck, even the front-line police officers and the National Guard are portrayed as Jim Crow-era goons who stand ready to trample the civil rights of the poor townfolk. I say that "nearly" all the villains work for the government because Grisham saves some castigation for the FAMILY OF THE MURDER VICTIM. The mother of the victim is portrayed as a fame whore who cares nothing about finding justice but only wants a painful death for the man she's convinced killed her daughter.
On the other hand, everyone who supports the wrongly-convicted Donte Drumm is a martyr and a visionary. Grisham gives them a pass for their dirty deeds. Even when they burn the home church of the murder victim and torch the business owned by the victim's step-father. Even when they throw Molotov cocktails into a widow's Buick. Even when they pelt police and National Guardsmen with cinder blocks, knocking unconscious an innocent reporter in the process. An effort to quell the violence with tear gas is viewed as a journey back to Selma in the 1960s. And a local church leader is portrayed as having quiet courage when he refuses to step in and ask for peace because the cops dared to use tear gas on the community "children."
The caricatures on both sides are drawn so ludicrously that it takes away from the sympathy the reader naturally feels for the innocent Donte Drumm. Grisham's take on the death penalty is so shrill and heavy-handed that he is likely to drive away far more readers than he is likely to win converts to his position. This book will probably only serve to alienate most police officers, prosecutors, judges, and Texans (and their families) who read it. Grisham's indulgent tale of government corruption, rife with race-baiting and demonizing of every possible public figure, is an affront to the many men and women in law enforcement and the courts who conscientiously grapple with the hard questions surrounding capital punishment.
Make no mistake about it: The Confession is a polemic dressed up as a novel. Those parts of the novel that deal with pastor Keith Schroeder's decision about what to do with the convicted sex offender who's shown up at his church claiming to be the real killer are interesting. There are enough twists and turns to keep the reader wondering if there is going to be more to this story than an overwrought morality play. And all this is done with the classic Grisham flair for the dramatic. But in the end, nothing unexpected materializes -- which is a huge disappointment.
on November 1, 2010
You have to admire John Grisham. For decades, he has occupied a permanent position on bestseller lists around the world. Since 1991, the 24 books he has written have sold hundreds of millions of copies, but he seems reluctant to rest on his success. In recent years, he has broken away from the genre of "courtroom fiction" that made him a household name. In 2006, he wrote his first work of nonfiction, THE INNOCENT MAN: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, about a man who was wrongfully sentenced to death in Oklahoma. Research and writing about the case made Grisham a vociferous and vigorous public opponent of the death penalty.
In his latest novel, THE CONFESSION, Grisham takes his opposition to capital punishment to a higher level. In the spirit of Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, Grisham has written a thriller about the race to save a wrongfully convicted man from execution. Along the way, he uses the pages of his book to indict a process that Justice Potter Stewart characterized in 1972 as "... cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual because those who are given the death penalty are among a capriciously selected random handful." While THE CONFESSION is fiction, it is based upon fact. Grisham has changed some names and locales, but the abuses of the criminal justice system recounted here are real and easily recognizable to anyone with knowledge of the death penalty and access to a computer search engine.
Donté Drumm is just days away from execution for the murder of Nicole Yarber. Her body was never found, but that fact did not prevent authorities in Texas from convicting Drumm and obtaining a death sentence. Clearly Grisham has chosen Texas as the book's venue because of its abysmal record in death penalty cases. This fictional case has elements of many horrendous examples of injustice that permeate the Texas legal system. Readers who shake their head in amazement at the accounts in THE CONFESSION should be forewarned that many of the outrages described by Grisham are based upon actual events in the Lone Star State.
As Drumm awaits his fate, Keith Schroeder, the pastor of a small Lutheran church in Topeka, Kansas, receives an unusual visitor. Travis Boyette is a career criminal diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and has only months to live. Boyette bares his soul to Schroeder and confesses to Yarber's murder. His account is bolstered by his knowledge of where Yarber's body is buried. As the clock ticks towards Drumm's execution, Boyette furnishes additional details establishing that he did indeed kill Yarber, and the State of Texas is preparing to execute an innocent man.
THE CONFESSION is an extraordinary narrative, because Grisham, through his advocacy against the death penalty, has become knowledgeable of the flaws and foibles of capital punishment. He uses the novel to expose those who are uninterested in justice and see the death penalty as a vehicle for achieving a political agenda. Included here are spot-on portrayals of the various participants in the death penalty drama and the contributions they make to create injustice. It starts with police officers who view the Constitution with disdain and believe that a hunch of guilt justifies any action that results in conviction. The harrowing steps to obtain Drumm's confession may be shocking, but they represent actual occurrences countenanced by the legal system. Sadly, that system is made up of prosecutors who view executions as a means to secure re-election and by judges who recognize that upholding Constitutional protections is not a way to win elections.
Grisham recognizes that, in recent years, resources have been allocated to defend those on death row, but their lawyers have too many clients and not enough time. In addition to the actors in the system, there is a media culture that sensationalizes the crimes but pays little attention to the defects in the process. Grisham is spot-on in portraying to readers the flaws in the system that lead to injustice, and even worse, the killing of individuals who are factually innocent. He also is vivid and cryptic in his detailing of the final hours leading to execution. As the clock ticks and the lawyers fight to save Drumm, the tension can almost be felt from page to page. That an innocent man faces death only adds to that tension.
John Grisham is to be applauded for accomplishing a difficult task. Many will read THE CONFESSION and surely ask questions about the death penalty and its application in American courts, and some minds may change. In the tradition of great writers, Grisham has produced a novel that seeks to end an injustice. The death penalty has been placed on trial in the pages of THE CONFESSION and stands convicted.
--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
on October 26, 2010
This has been an awesome novel by Grisham. A must have for any Grisham fan's collection. The story is non stop action and seat of the pants suspense
as they race against time to save an innocent man. It makes you really wonder just how many people have been executed or is sitting on Death Row that are truely innocent. Through DNA testing, many people have been exonerated or freed for crimes they didn't commit. Kinda makes you wonder just how bad our legal system is in many places. A speedy trial with little or no evidence has convicted many a person. How many lives of those that were freed and exonerated have been totally destroyed just because people still think they are guilty or how can one person mentally cope with the outside world after being in prison for so long. This book brought light on our legal system and just how easy it is to convict an innocent person of a wrongful crime.
Grisham is truely a master of suspense as he takes you on a ride to fight to save an innocent man. Two thumbs up!!!!
on December 8, 2010
This book was flat out BORING, not by any means a 'thriller'. And yes, I understand the injustice of the legal system and felt empathy for Donte and his family, but I feel that John Grishman just doesn't write like he used to. My all time favorite book of his was 'The Last Juror' - now there was a story that kept my interest. The Confession dragged and dragged. I couldn't wait for it to end. Where is the author who wrote The Testament, The Summons, The Steet Lawyer and The Chamber??????
on November 17, 2010
I was hooked on the book to the climax at approx 60% then what was the last 40% about? Without giving out spoilers I feel that I should have stopped reading or the book should have ended after the climax and I would have been happy and awarded the book 4 stars. But for every chapter thereafter the excitement passed over to boredom and finally frustration.
I am not living in the US so that may explain some of the frustrations I had with the end, but not all.
on December 14, 2010
The Confession is so loaded with stereotypes it is hard to care for any of the characters. The falsely accused is a saint; the crusader lawyer is out of a B movie, and the elected officials are all uniformly corrupt--governors, judges, police and prosecutors. The real killer was abused as a child. The minister discovers that the death penalty is bad. And on and on. Save your money.