Cover photo by Fry Design Ltd./Getty Images
Cover design by John Fontana
Publisher: Dell (Random House)
First published: 26 October 2010
This edition published: 19 July 2011
On the cover:
AN INNOCENT MAN IS ABOUT TO BE EXECUTED.ONLY A GUILTY MAN CAN SAVE HIM.In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, Travis Boyette abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.
Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess. But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?
I have read most of Grisham's novels, and I have enjoyed all of them to some extent. They are always interesting, fast-paced, and they usually have a good suspense element to them. When this novel starts, it seems to follow that pattern, and it does so very well. The story presented in the first few chapters is an intriguing one, and it seems like it will be interesting to follow it wherever it leads. But it soon became apparent I was going to have some issues with this novel.
After the initial set-up, that as I said above is a good one, you will quickly get the feeling that you have encountered this story before. At least if you watch crime on TV, and especially if you have followed news to do with capital punishment in the US.
Familiarity doesn't have to be a problem in a novel, sometimes it can even be an advantage, but I felt this was too much of something I have seen before. Not only were the characters pretty much what you would expect to see if you tried to come up with a list of character clichés for a story about an innocent man, but the story itself brought very little new to the table.
As I said the story is familiar. I think I actually may have read most of it in a magazine article at some point (, can't remember if it was online or offline). And in some ways I was just waiting for this story to veer off track, to deviate at least a little bit from what felt like familiar territory to me. This is actually where this novel surprised me the most, by not going "off the beaten path", it actually stuck to what I expected the whole time.
There is only really a couple of minor points that bring in any suspense as to what will happen at all, and those are quickly done. Especially one of them, who would seem to be a long awaited source of some suspense, was quickly resolved.
All of the above are not actually bugs in this story, they are features. And while I have a reading/watching/news experience that makes this old to me, that isn't necessarily the case for anyone else. If you have little or no expectations of what to find in a story about an innocent man on death row, you'll probably find this much fresher than I did. And there will probably be a lot of suspense in there for you.
The writing isn't really bad in itself, the novel is on the same level there that you can find in all Grisham novels, and it is really a fast-paced novel. Even with the problems I had with it, I found myself reading chapter after chapter at a steady pace.
This is definitely one of those novels where the readers mileage will vary to a great extent. I can't really say that there was really something wrong with it as such, it just wasn't a story that worked for me personally. It hasn't put me off reading Grisham though, and I will surely pick up one of his novels again in the future.