About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Confession by John Grisham

29. – 588.) The Confession by John Grisham – The comfortable life of Kansas Lutheran minister, Keith Schroeder, is jolted when Travis Boyette, a warped sexually violent criminal staying in a halfway house, confides that he has raped and killed a Texas teenage girl some 9 years ago. He feels uncomfortable, remorse and regret do not exist in his psyche, that Donte Drumm, a young black man, is scheduled to be executed for the murder in 6 days.
        Schroeder seeks to contact Robbie Flak, Drumm’s attorney in Slone, Texas. Flak, wrapped up in the last days frenzy of trying to prevent an execution, brushes aside as just another irrelevant caller distracting his focus on keeping Drumm alive.
        Back in Kansas, Boyette suffering from a brain tumour, is manipulating Schroeder as he appears ready to go public and then backs away.
         In Texas, having conducted several hundred executions, the finely tuned execution machinery is running smoothly. The Criminal Court of Appeal is dealing promptly with last minute appeals. The Governor, a staunch proponent of the death penalty, is reviewing a clemency petition. The prisons involved are following their standard procedures. It is close to a bureaucratic exercise.
         Within Slone racial tensions rise with the white population convinced of guilt and the black citizens convinced of innocence.
        Will the innocent Drumm be executed? Grisham takes the reader on a legal race against death. The pages flow swiftly. I sat on my deck long into a chilly evening unable to put the book down as the suspense builds and builds and builds. With death looming closer each day the tension steadily heightens.
        In all his legal thrillers Grisham creates fascinating lawyers engaged in legal practice in an area of prominent public attention. Flak is no exception. He lives life Texas large with his practice devoted to fighting the battles of the common man in the courts of America. Drumm could not have a better advocate.
        It is Grisham’s second foray into a lawyer fighting against execution. I believe The Chamber may have been Grisham’s best book. In that book there was no question of the inmate’s guilt. At issue was whether he should be executed.
        In this death penalty book Grisham undoubtedly tackles the question of whether an innocent person can be executed in Texas because of the official statements in that state that there is no proof they have ever killed the wrong man or woman.
        It happened in England 60 years ago when Timothy Evans was executed for murders actually committed by David Christie, a fellow tenant in the same house.
        Within Canada we have gone through a series of cases in the last 15 years where it was determined that innocent men had been convicted. In Saskatchewan there was a case with many facts close to Grisham’s book. David Milgaard was a teenager convicted in Saskatoon, while I was in university in the same city, of the rape and murder of a nurse. His mother, aided by a courageous lawyer in Winnipeg, challenged the conviction for 22 years. A proper investigation and inquiry finally identified the real killer, a previously convicted rapist, and Milgaard was released. Had Milgaard lived in Texas he would have been executed long before he was exonerated.
        As a lawyer I am grateful there is no capital punishment in Canada. The pressure on a lawyer defending an accused in a death penalty case is overwhelming. Over 80 years ago, when Canada still had the death penalty, one of Saskatchewan’s best lawyers who was later our Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, took a murder case to trial when he likely could have pursued a guilty plea to manslaughter. His client was convicted and hung.
        It will be interesting to see if The Confession becomes a movie. It does not fit easily into the Hollywood mould.
        If you start the book give yourself the time you need to read 450 pages. If not, you will find yourself changing schedules to find the time. Excellent. (May 29/11)


  1. Bill - Thanks, not only for your fine review, but also for your insights. It's really interesting and helpful to hear what those in the legal profession feel about the death penalty. I'm also glad you mentioned The Chamber, since Grisham discusses this issue there, too, and I'm eager to compare the points he makes there with the points he makes in The COnfession.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think everyone directly involved in trials realizes the fallability of the system. The New York Times just printed the obituary of an American scholar whose statistical analysis showed how more frequently those convicted of killing white victims were assessed the death penalty than those who killed black victims.

  3. The Confession is a legal thriller by an accomplished writer, one who became famous by writing legal thrillers. I loved Grisham's early books, reading each one eagerly, glued to the pages, and disappointed when I finished, realizing that I had to wait a long time for the next one. Somewhere along the way Grisham lost his mojo, and, unfortunately, he hasn't fully regained it.

  4. Grisham's The Chamber pushed me finally to be opposed to the death penalty, although I was mostly there. The film Dead Man Walking was the final push.

    False confessions are so common. It seems like every week I'm reading about an exoneration of a prisoner, including on death row, who was freed because of not only new evidence, but because someone pursued the case until it was resolved. The Innocence Project here run by Barry Sheck comes to mind. It has been responsible for gaining the freedom of many people wrongly convicted, including by false, coerced convictions.
    And on the death penalty, the execution of Troy Davis, a racist atrocity is a case in point. Despite no DNA, forensic or blood evidence; 7 of 9 witnesses recanting, saying they were coerced by police to i.d. him, and a world outcry, he was executed.
    The E.U. is right; no death penalty for any reason.
    Also, the 5 men tried and jailed in the Central Park jogger case. They said they were forced to confess. Years later, while they were in jail, someone else confessed. They were released, but several years of their lives were taken from them.

  5. kathy d: Thanks for commenting. I appreciated your thoughtful comment. I have enjoyed reading your comments on other blogs, especially Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. With regard to the Central Park jogger case I remember the certainty of a city that the young men convicted were guilty and deserved a worse punishment than jail.