Book Review No. 1 – The Last Juror by John Grisham (2004)

It is January 9th and I finished reading my first book this year, mind you I had started it last year, put it aside while reading other novels, and then came back to it. To my shame I have to admit that up until this particular book, I had never read a John Grisham before, which is odd because I love crime stories and series which have a bit of a thrill to it, so one would have thought that I should have come across the bestselling legal thriller writer before, but maybe I was just put off by the big name, the hype around its author and its mega-popularity.

But then last May when I was browsing around the second hand book stall at the Anglican Church Fair, and left with an amazing bargain of 7 books for 5 Euros, I had picked up a John Grisham. And reading The Last Juror was very different than what I expected it to be…. Maybe I thought I would come across a second Dan Brown in that the plot would be so full of suspense that it leaves you breathless from the first page and urges you on to continue reading, but not so.

Spoiler alert: if you do not want to know the end of the book, please do not continue reading.

Here is a first short synopsis: 1970s in Mississippi: Willie Traynor, a 23-year-old college dropout, buys The Ford County Times, which begins to prosper once Willie starts reporting on a court case against Danny Padgitt who is charged with the rape and murder of a young mother. Danny threatens the jurors with revenge if they convict him, but nevertheless he gets sentenced to life in prison. But in the legal system in Mississippi “life” does not necessarily mean “life”. After only 9 years in prison Danny Padgitt gets paroled and is released, and the retribution begins.

So after having read a similar short description at the back of the book, I assumed that once I started reading, the murder of the first juror would be mentioned relatively quickly. I was wrong, completely wrong. The first juror is not murdered until page 400 (the book has about 505 pages). This was definitely not what I had expected, in fact the story starts with Willie buying the newspaper, then moves onto the crime, the original court case, and other minor or major events which happen in a small county in Southern USA for a decade. The Last Juror, a title which I actually find quite misleading, is way more than just a simple thriller, it is indeed so much deeper and insightful than I could have ever imagined. It is a social and cultural study of a small town in Mississippi in the 1970s, pointing out historical and political changes surrounding the civil rights movement (like desegregation of schools) and filled with rich and colourful characters. I wondered what the South of the USA really looks like, I wanted to pack my bags and go on a search for my Miss Callie who would cook me wonderfully tasteful Southern Comfort Food with vegetables grown in her own garden.

However at the end there is an unexpected turn, out of the blue, again completely unexpected, very unsatisfactory, and there is this tiny doubt now in my brain. Has Danny Padgitt really killed Rhoda Kassellaw, or was it all just a setup to finally get one of the notoriously criminal Padgitt family finally behind bars….

I am not sure whether I liked the book at first, but as I have been so intrigued and it has been so different from anything else that I have ever read, I just need to read another John Grisham book to be able to make my mind up.

In any case, it has been a great start to my reading year….

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