22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Maybe Grisham's best work,
This review is from: The Last Juror (Hardcover)
In my experience, Grisham either writes excellent books (The Chamber, The Runaway Jury) or very mediocre ones (The Client, which is possibly the most pointless thing I have read in years.) The blurb of The Last Juror – which tells of a small Southern town, a rape and murder trial, a defendant send down despite threatening revenge if the jurors convict him, and a “retribution” 9 years later upon his release – makes it sound a very promising thriller, and I was expecting to read what might be Grisham’s best book. However, the blurb is slightly misleading in its focus and its suggestion of time. Indeed, the trial doesn’t happen until about halfway through, and the release not until about the final 50 pages. As I realised this, I changed my expectation to disappointment. Big but: I was very wrong. Because, in spite of that, this is STILL probably Grisham’s finest novel.
While it is partly about the trial and conviction of local boy Danny Padgitt, The Last Juror is actually about the town as a whole and how it changes over time, through desegregation and other social shifts. It’s about it’s eclectic residents and how they cope with the changes and crimes in the community, as seen through the eyes of the dubiously-named Willie Traynor, one of Grisham’s most engaging narrators in years, a 23 year-old journalist who has recently acquired ownership of the Ford Count Times, and gradually turns its fortunes around as he writes with endearing passion about the town, and anger at the corruption in its justice system. The journey Grisham takes us on, through the panorama of 9 years in the history of this town in the seventies, is a wonderful, touching, and also thrilling, and The Last Juror is a wonderful, touching and thrilling book.
There is an inexplicable tendency, even among fans of the crime genre, to look down on Grisham and other huge populists, and it is a tendency which is denying lots of people some great reading experiences. His books aren’t particularly challenging, no, but he is a brilliant and instinctive storyteller. His prose is so easy and languid, so polished, that it flows past the eyes and invites one simply to be carried along with the ease of the experience. It is remarkable prose, unlike anyone else’s. Thus, his books don’t require much effort to read, but the rewards of a captivating, entertaining story are copious and potent for the fact that his books asks so little – apart from a little emotional investment in his characters - and give, comparatively, so much.
Grisham’s books tend to be very plot driven, but this one also puts a bit more focus on characters; a quirky and warming bunch. The town colourful inhabitants are drawn, on the surface, wonderfully, even if there is no real depth to some of them. They are an unthreatening, entirely innocuous group, a personification, almost, of Grisham’s approach to his books. It’s sometimes remarkable to think that in the gratuitous world of crime writing, Grisham’s books are never ever brutal, and in all his back-catalogue he’s only ever “murdered” about 7 people.
In the end, this is a great legal thriller with some nice twists, but more than that it is a compelling meditation on the life of a small American town in the 70’s. In the very moving final chapter, Grisham’s message seems to be that the only person who sits in on our final judgement, our own last juror, is ourselves. Or God, depending upon what you believe, I suppose.