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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Extended Look at Guilt, Remorse, Punishment, and Redemption, 20 Jun 2008
This review is from: The Chamber (Mass Market Paperback)
If your idea of a good book is one where there is lots of action and fascinating twists and turns of plot complications pop up on every page, you shouldn't go anywhere near The Chamber. If, however, you would like to gain a visceral sense of the issues around capital punishment, The Chamber is a well-constructed fictional treatment. It won't be a pretty or a pleasant experience, but neither is capital punishment.

I remember as a youngster carefully following the case of Caryl Chessman, a convicted robber and rapist who was executed in California's gas chamber. Reading The Chamber brought back those visceral memories of thinking through my reactions to the death penalty. I became an opponent. Most people who read this book will too.

John Grisham does a good job of making the book about the death penalty, rather than the general flaws in the legal system. He also explains the reasons why gas chambers were an awful way to execute criminals.

The condemned man in the story is clearly guilty, by his own admission, in the book; but Grisham makes him somewhat appealing: Grisham wants us to think about what should happen to this old white man, Sam Cayhall, a KKK member who participated in terror bombings in the South during the Civil Rights era. Grisham's clever idea for this book is to have Sam's grandson Adam Hall, who doesn't know his grandfather, handle the last few weeks of desperate appeals. Hall becomes a surrogate for a neutral observer in a situation where there can be no neutral observers.

I was impressed by the plotting and character development in the story. Murder creates more victims than most people realize, even among the killer's family. Grisham adds those dimensions in persuasive fashion.

The book's main weakness is that he pushes our noses a bit too much into nitty gritty of defending Death Row cases. Unless you are a lawyer (which I am), you won't find a lot of this very interesting. But if you are lawyer who hasn't been near a capital case, you'll find this book to be quite startling in terms of describing a situation for defense lawyers where they have little hope to win . . . but lots of chances to experience a broken heart.

If you want a shorter look at Grisham's views on the subject, you might enjoy the non-fiction The Innocent Man more than The Chamber.
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