I returned to the reading habit last night when I completed The Last Juror by John Grisham from start to finish.
I skipped his previous novel, Bleachers, because the mysterious gridiron references just didn’t appeal. I’m pleased to say that with this new book Grisham returns to the courtroom, but with the added dimension of insight to a small town newspaper.
As a former country journalist I related to this theme with great interest and an eye for detail. Grisham gets it exactly right, with a sensitive portrayal.
Twenty-three year-old Willie Traynor starts work on a declining weekly in Ford County. When the paper goes bankrupt his rich grandmother invests and Willie becomes the owner.
He builds circulation through hard work and a nose for news. When a local woman is murdered he covers the ensuing court case with courage and determination, boosting circulation and profits in the process.
The man convicted, Danny Pidgett, has nasty criminal connections and his threat to attack jurors is not taken lightly. Danny escaped the death penalty, but everyone thought they were safe with the murderer locked behind bars.
The “life sentence” lasted only nine years and when two of the jurors were killed the town of Clanton became a scared and jumpy place.
As usual, Grisham’s narrative was fast and descriptive without being tedious.
This novel is set in the same small town as A Time To Kill and some of the same characters appear. I can’t recall Grisham revisting characters before. In this case I enjoyed reading about lawyer Lucien Willbanks before he was disbarred, Harry Rex and judge Omar Noose.
The newspaper descriptions won me over completely. I felt I was reading about myself through young Willie Traynor. I also had noble ideals and wanted to change the world through my newspaper when I was 25. I was similarly self-righteous in my editorials. I worked the same long hours and covered all the day-to-day trivialities of small-town life.
However, I doubt I would have had Traynor’s courage in the face of similar intimidatory circumstances.
The point though is that Grisham made me smile and reflect. There aren’t many books set against a country newspaper background; the last I read was Family Trust by Ward Just.
My only regret with The Last Juror is that I finished the book so quickly.