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John Grisham

A-The ConfessionJohn Grisham is best known for his more than 20 legal thrillers, including the best-selling The Firm (1991). Reviewed: The Last Juror ( 3 of 5 Stars May/June 2004), The Innocent Man ( 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2007), The Appeal ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2008), and The Associate ( 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2009).

The Story: A decade earlier, Donté Drumm, a local black football star, admitted to a murder he did not commit and was convicted. Now, sitting on death row less than a week before his scheduled execution, Drumm has lost all hope of reprieve. Then Travis Boyette, a Kansas parolee who suffers from a fatal brain tumor, decides to assuage his own guilt and admits to raping and strangling a popular white high school cheerleader in a small east Texas town in 1998. His confidante, Keith Schroeder, a Lutheran pastor, as well as Drumm's attorney, fights against the clock to try to save the innocent Drumm. But time may not be on their side.
Doubleday. 432 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780385528047

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As is frequently the case with Grisham, there are no moral [gray] areas, which probably suits our polarized world. Those in power are corrupt; those who aren't are honorable but abused. He never seems able to mine the middle ground the way say, Tom Wolfe, or other more nuanced authors deftly do." Chris Erskine

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If Grisham's dialogue and narrative sometimes cross the line between storytelling and proselytizing about the evils of the death penalty, he compensates through meaty character portrayals and an unpredictable end to Drumm's story. ... Readers who share [Grisham's views of the death penalty] as well as those sitting on the fence will find much to love and lament in the tragic story of Donté Drumm." Carol Memmott

Globe and Mail (Canada) 3 of 5 Stars
"It is patented Grisham potboiler, in plotting, pace and tone as well as in its focus on ‘legal lynching': death penalties pronounced on America's wrongly convicted. ... Much of the time, the reader has the impression he's wolfing down a reporter's account of actual events--absorbing, well-researched journalism, with the occasional (journalistic) lapse into cliché or stereotype, particularly noticeable in other central characters such as politicized lawyers and judges and bent government hacks." Jeffrey Miller

Onion AV Club 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Grisham is a pop novelist, and there are a number of familiar elements in The Confession for anyone who's read his work before, like the flashy, showboating lawyer who's willing to give all he has for his clients, and the love/hate relationship with the Lone Star State. ... The Confession makes for an adequate novel, and a crude-but-effective method of persuasion." Zack Handlen

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"There's a lot of padding in The Confession. ... So this is a solid yet sluggish novel that is not one of Mr. Grisham's barnburners." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Readers turning to Grisham know what to expect: formulaic thrillers peppered with fast-paced plots ("legal literature on meth," says the Los Angeles Times) and a host of clearly marked good and bad guys, often limned in black and white, with few moral nuances. Although Grisham may not be the finest literary stylist around, that doesn't make The Confession, like any of his previous novels, any less fun or, for that matter, compulsively readable. Here, however, Grisham has an ax to grind against the death penalty and racial divisiveness, so readers whose sympathies lie elsewhere may wish to skip this one. As for other readers? "Good thing," notes the Los Angeles Times, "Grisham tells his stories at a fierce, can't-put-it-down clip.