Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Confession

The Confession
© 2010 John Grisham
418 pages

In 1998, the small Texas city of Sloan was horrified when a high school belle vanished without a trace. She'd been abducted, abused, murdered, and buried by a serial rapist named Travis Boyette.  Outraged and horrified, the town eagerly pursues its first suspect and sends him to Death Row -- but Boyette was not accused, condemned, or even suspected. He walks free while an innocent boy, another high school star, is sentenced to death on the basis of a transparently extracted confession and the word of a jealous goon.  Nicole's body was never found, nor was there any physical evidence to tie young Donte to the crime.  Almost ten years later,  as Donte's execution date draws near, Boyette stumbles into the office of a Lutheran minister with a troubled conscience. He's dying, troubled by his conscience, and knows all too well that in less than a week, a broken young boy will be killed for someone else's crimes.

Keith Schroeder never anticipated being the confessor of a serial rapist, but he's gripped by the Cause: if he can convince the legal system that they may have the wrong man, Donte will live and possibly even be exonerated. While Donte's lawyer Robbie Flak files every last-minute appeal he can, Schroeder and Boyette race against the clock, violate Boyette's parole for another crime, and rush to the backwoods of Missouri where Boyette claims to have buried the body. The odds are long that they will concede: the prosecuting attorneys, judge, and governors are all hard men proud to see Donte on his way to Death Row: to them,  his death will be a triumph, a sign to all that Texas' lawmen are doing their job to protect good white people from the black menace.

Black menace --? Oh, yes. Donte is black. His jurors were all white, and his sloppy conviction and impending execution have Slone teetering on the precipe of a race riot. There's no lack of dramatic tension in The Confession once the race to Missouri against a ticking clock starts in earnest.  I for one received the book on Christmas morning and began reading it later that evening after a day of family festivities. I continued reading well into the night, , but I could not put it down.  The book was racing towards its conclusion, or so I thought, and I was carried towards dawn by the fast pace. Every time I thought the tension was nearing a breaking point, Grisham threw another spanner in the works. He hasn't had this spellbinding effect on me in years.  The conclusion is a mixed bag, not unusual for Grisham:  while he rarely writes stories of the 'bad guys' winning, he's not particularly keen on writing stories of the 'good guys' winning, either --at best, the victories are Pyrrhic.  Like most of Grisham's novels, this is not idle entertainment; he uses his characters' plight to address a point. The Appeal criticized judicial politics, for instance, a tack also taken up here along with revisiting The Chamber's theme of the effectiveness and morality of the death penalty.  More directly, The Confession attacks the prosecution's eagerness to convict and kill:  human lives should not be weighed in the balance by politicians eager to perform for emotional audiences.

The Confession is an emotionally turbulent thriller of human conscience set against malevolent institutions that recommends itself far more than other releases in recent years like The Associate.


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