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, December 19, 2019

The Guardians by John Grisham

The Guardians by John Grisham - It is execution night in Alabama and Cullen Post has come to the prison to be with his client, Duke Russell. Post, an innocence lawyer, specializes in cases of those he believes were wrongfully convicted. They meet in the Death Room next to the Death Chamber. Post is confident his client will not die at midnight.

With the breezy confidence of an experienced litigator Post is right. A stay is issued. Post has saved a life.

He is convinced Mark Carter is the rapist killer of Emily Broone and is confident he has the evidence to prove Russell’s innocent. Getting a stay gains time but can Post convince a court of Russell’s innocence by showing Carter’s guilt.

Russell was convicted by a jury in Verona, Alabama. County prosecutor, Chad Falwright, relied on a pair of expert witnesses.

First, a retired dentist from Wyoming, who makes his career of testifying for the State concluded some “nicks” on Broone’s arms were teeth marks made by Russell.

Second, an “expert” from the state crime lab testified some pubic hairs found on Broone’s body came from Russell.

$3,000 of state money was wasted on Russell’s trial counsel, an alcoholic lawyer soon to be disbarred.

Post derisively calls the state experts as experts only in “junk science”.

Aiding Post and Gourley is Francois “Frankie” Tatum who Post freed from a wrongful murder conviction. 

Post is drawn to a new case. Quincy Miller has spent 22 years in jail convicted of killing a lawyer in Seabrook, Florida. (I always have a bit of a shiver when the victim is a lawyer.)

The evidence is deeply flawed. An eyewitness implausibly states she saw a man like Miller in the vicinity. An embittered wife claims Miller had a shotgun and an incriminating flashlight. An expert for hire with a scarcity of credentials has testified about blood spatter and confidently identified spots on a flashlight as blood based on photos. Lastly a jailhouse snitch asserts a confession.

In this book and The Whistler Grisham portrays northern central Florida as a dark, dangerous and corrupt land with public officials ruling their fiefdoms.

As I read about the evidence I could see the challenge in mounting a successful appeal. Unless at some witnesses recanted their evidence the jury could have accepted even their unlikely statements. The expert can be shredded but there was enough other evidence for conviction. Complicating their efforts, the flashlight went missing before the trial in a fire that destroyed the shed where County evidence was stored. A jailhouse snitch’s reliability is readily challenged but he was never a crucial witness. 

Post and the other Guardians seek out the witnesses of the State to see if they regret the evidence given at trial. They have no coercive powers. They can only hope that decades of guilt over false testimony will induce them to now tell the truth. The power of guilt is amazing.

Unlike some fictional stories of wrongful conviction there are no miraculous discoveries of evidence. There are no Perry Mason moments of public admission of guilt by the real killer. It is hard draining work over years that wins an exoneration.

It struck me how many books, including several in the Harry Bosch series, were the police review cold cases to find a killer and how few books there about dedicated defenders delving deep to prove wrongful conviction. I expect part of the reason is that real life police departments have budgets to close cold cases. No public money is available to re-examine cases where someone is long convicted. Only the fortunate few convicted are able to find a lawyer with the time, commitment and personal resources to fund such a quest get a chance at freedom.

Post outlines his unique circumstances to an FBI agent:

“We’re in the same business, sort of. You solve crimes to lock people up. I solbe crimes to get people out.”

Grisham’s story involves one of the most challenging plots. As Post digs into the trial a conspiracy is exposed. Appropriately shadowy and maelovent …...

Representatives of the bad guys slip into sight in a clever courtroom scene. And the conspiracy gradually becomes clear. Unlike many a crime fiction conspiracy it is an all too credible scheme. As the unraveling of the conspiracy picks up I raced through the last third of the book.

After reading Grisham books in which lawyers were unable to save clients from execution I was glad to read a Grisham book where there was exoneration.
My previous post was about Cullen Post - http://mysteriesandmore.blogspot.com/2019/12/cullen-post-in-guardians.html


  1. You make a really interesting (and important) contrast between the police looking into cold cases, and attorneys doing so, Bill. I'm in neither field, and never have been, but my guess would be that that budget issues is a major one. This story does sound fascinating in terms of what a lawyer might do to go back over the testimony and other aspects of the case to see what might be done. The case itself sounds interesting, too. But, to be honest, I think Grisham's talent is such that I'd have been surprised if you didn't think the book was a good one.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Facing the power and resources of the Crown (State) is daunting at trial. For the convicted it is rare for a defendant to have the ability to finance appeals.

      Grisham is always good and often great.

  2. Thanks for this positive review. I have only read The Chamber by Grishman about the death penalty, which was a tough read even though the client was a Klan-type. I couldn't read others where the clients are executed. I am so opposed to the death penalty it makes me ill to read any book where this is used.
    But I will read this one based on your review.
    A lot of people in prison and on death row had public defenders who simply do not have the time or the resources to do a lot of investigating and get forensic evidence to exonerate their clients. And, frankly, often where DNA evidence is needed, clients don't have the funds to pay for it nor do their attorneys. And sometimes the prosecutors won't accept it even if it's there.
    I have to thank the Innocence Project for pursuing such cases and winning some exonerations. To them and all of the lawyers and their student aides who do this grueling work out of principle. Thanks.
    And to you, Bill and your growing family, happy holidays and new year.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I find it hard reading death penalty books where the execution takes place. I do consider Grisham to have written some of the best books involving death penalty cases.

      All the best to you and your family for the holidays.

  3. It's been too long since I read anything by John Grisham, thanks for the reminder. And if I'm not back before Christmas, I hope you and yours have a peaceful time.

    1. Col: Thanks for the comment. I enjoy Grisham's books. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  4. I enjoy your entries so much, Bill, and am glad to see another Saskatchewan blogger who is so prolific! -Kate (near Wadena)

  5. Thank you for the comment Kate. I appreciate hearing from you.