A review of The Confession: A Novel, by John Grisham
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
If you read books, then you almost certainly know the name John Grisham. He’s the author of 24 best-selling novels, ten of which have been adapted to film. His second book — The Firm, published in 1991 — sold seven million copies, and you can bet that after every one of his subsequent novels hit best-seller lists, the first one did, too, in a paperback reprint.
Take Grisham’s latest, for example. The Confession tells a familiar story: a young African-American man is railroaded into a guilty verdict by the so-called justice system of the State of Texas. The real rapist and murderer surfaces, but not in time to stop the young man’s execution for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. Only later is justice served, after a fashion, when the young man is exonerated. End of story.
It’s a great story, really, and such a brief synopsis can’t possibly do justice to the plot, the characters, the setting, the details of the legal system, or, for that matter, the author. But the fact remains: it’s just a story.
Not only that: it’s also a story very simply told. You’d search in vain through the pages of The Confession for even a single writerly turn of phrase. There’s no stylistic flourish, no soaring prose. Just simple Anglo-Saxon dialogue and narrative. Grisham even lapses once into the hideous attorney’s phrase, “pursuant to.” (Yuck!)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I was a great fan of John Grisham’s previous legal thrillers, all of which I’ve read, and I enjoyed The Confession enormously. When Grisham has another one published — he’s only 55 now — I’ll almost certainly read that one, too.
So, again, why?
The answer to this nagging question isn’t all that simple. It’s partly a matter of craft, of course. Grisham’s plotting is masterful. He weaves together the threads of each story into a compelling and often heart-pounding tale. Every incident, every flashback, every character, every word appears just exactly where it needs to appear to move the story along. There’s nothing superfluous in John Grisham’s writing — not a thought, not a word (except maybe “pursuant to”). But other writers have mastered the craft of writing suspense novels. Lots of them.
What John Grisham brings to his work as a writer — other than his deep knowledge of the law and its application in the South — is more than just craft. For one thing, he clearly has a deep-seated passion for justice. The Confession, like other memorable stories he’s told in writing, is a loud cry for the ideals of our legal system to be put into practice. When Grisham tells the story of a young man — and, for that matter, his family and his community — victimized by a corrupt system, he’s relating to us a true story of America today. He strikes a deep chord of recognition in us all, because we’ve heard that story before, again and again, on our television screens and in our newspapers. And the details of the story don’t matter, because we know in our hearts that the unprincipled police officers and prosecutors and judges, the self-seeking politicians, the heartless insurance executives, and the greedy lawyers that populate Grisham’s books are the people we believe are running our lives.
John Grisham has emerged as one of the premier chroniclers of our time because he’s telling our story.