This is John Grisham's 33d novel and he is still going strong as a legal novelist. While this latest legal thriller is not a "page turner" like "The Firm," which kept me awake until I finished it, it is a good solid craftsman effort that has many interesting rewards. I have noticed, and discuss in other Grisham reviews, that he is now inclined to use his stories not only to entertain but also to inform. That is, recently he has used his novels to explain and explore a number of key legal developments--including mass torts, death penalty cases, public interest law firms, and state lawyer disciplinary boards-by building them into his novels. I think this only enhances the enjoyment of his legal fiction.
Here, he is at it again invoking private jails, prisons as profit centers for their communities, how "snitches" can be bribed into testifying for prosecutors, the abuse of expert witnesses, FBI investigations, blood stain analysis and experts, and DEA investigative techniques. His central character in the novel, both an Episcopalian priest and lawyer (that collar does come in handy in getting into prisons), works for a small public interest law firm whose mission is to exonerate prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted. It is a small version of the well known Innocence Project. Two million folks are incarcerated, one million employees tend to their needs, and $80 billion is the price tag on all this. An estimated 10% of all prisoners are actually innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. So it is good that Grisham is bringing these important legal actors to our attention.
I always enjoy Grisham when he is writing about his southern homeland and its legal systems. The novel runs 370 pages, and I certainly enjoyed it, as well as all his other novels. But as the reader nears the conclusion, while interesting, there is no pounding need to keep reading in search of the big Grisham finish as used to be the case. Perhaps this just reflects Grisham's growing stature as a novelist; he doesn't need people jumping out of skyscraper windows and similar devices to hold his readers' interest. A good, solid Grisham legal mystery and informative as well.