Monday, June 2, 2014

THE LAST JUROR by John Grisham

Willie Traynor jumpstarts his journalism career by purchasing Clanton, Mississippi’s weekly newspaper in 1970.  Soon he finds himself caught up in the murder trial of Danny Padgitt, clearly guilty, and a member of a local family known for illegal businesses and the corruption of many local authorities.  The trial becomes personal when Willie’s good friend Callie Ruffin becomes the first black juror in the town’s history.  Padgitt becomes available for parole in about 10 years, but rather than jump a decade in time, Grisham fills us in on the changes taking place in Clanton.  Segregation of the schools ends, and the citizens, still seething that Danny didn’t get the death penalty, vote out of office most of the politicians that were in the Padgitts’ pocket.  Willie becomes a local fixture, having finally cut his hair and spiffed up his wardrobe, championing unpopular causes and upgrading the paper.  He’s made such a success out of it that by the time Danny Padgitt is a free man, Willie has an offer that he can’t refuse.  He’s come a long way from the Syracuse University student who squandered his grandmother’s college funding.  The power of the press sits squarely on his shoulders, and he uses it to open Clanton’s eyes a little wider, while at the same time trying to be fair, printing opposing opinions as well as his own editorials.  I thought that over the course of ten years, such a popular young man should have had more than one romantic liaison, but he claims that most of the women are married by the age of 20.  In any case, except for Callie, there are not any leading ladies in this novel, but Grisham populates it with several colorful men, including the newspaper’s staff (which does include a woman) and the denizens of the courthouse, including Danny Padgitt’s slimy lawyer, Lucien Wilbanks.  This may not be the usual Grisham legal thriller, but it still bears his mark, with his main character taking risks and making his presence felt, and his destiny becomes intertwined with the town’s.

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