The Confession, By John Grisham

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The Independent Culture

This is a book about which John Grisham clearly felt deeply - perhaps because he has recently become concerned about wrongful convictions, and the treatment of that theme here has a very passionate edge. Although Grisham has dealt with the countdown to an execution before in The Chamber, a similar plot device here has produced even more focused results. Grisham has translated his thoughts about what the real killer might be thinking and doing into an unsettling narrative, as the last hours of life ebb away for an innocent mann. The real killer's identity is given away at the beginning of The Confession.

Texas at the end of the last century: Travis Boyette is a deeply unpleasant man, unhappy with his worthless life. He is seduced by the thought that some small measure of comfort may be snatched by terrorising and subjugating another human being. His victim is to be a popular girl, a high-school student. He abducts, rapes and murders her before hiding her body.

But any fears that he might harbour about being tried for the crime vanish when an innocent man, Donté Drumm (where does Grisham find his names?), is arrested. Drumm, a local football star, finds himself the prime suspect and is convicted. Nine years pass on death row, and the stays of execution for Drumm are exhausted. He is to die in four days. The wretched killer, Boyette, has had a change of heart: a brain tumour and his own imminent death have persuaded him that he must make a clean breast of the murder. But is it too late?

The Confession is an airing for the beliefs of the author, but it is also a page-turner. Grisham is careful never to preach. He is much exercised by the fact that men have died in miscarriages of justice, and has pointed out that DNA evidence is forcing people to look again at such cases.

However, this novel suggests that perhaps Americans have become addicted to the speed with which conviction and execution can be carried out - and that opportunities for more careful consideration are too quickly passed over. It's this motivating force which perhaps makes the book one of the most personal Grisham has written, even though (largely speaking) he never forgets his primary purpose, which is to entertain. That mission he has been faithfully carrying out since his first book. There are no stylistic flourishes, but Grishamites will find all their buttons pressed.