Book Review: “The Last Juror” by John Grisham

I read this book in the heat of Ferdy Sambo’s infamous murder trial. That’s how you jazz up a reading experience with an extra thrill.

It tells a story of a young journalist, Willie Traynor, who runs a neglected local newspaper and made its name back after covering the murder of Rhoda Kashellaw in the hands of Danny Padgitt, whose family is known to be a bunch of criminals in Mississippi. At the verdict trial when the jury gave Danny a life sentence, he swore to take ultimate revenge. Nine years later, people who served on the jury were killed one by one.

As expected from John Grisham, it’s a fast-paced story with so many characters involved (which can be confusing at times). I love the suspenseful courtroom drama where Danny’s lawyer, Lucien Willbanks (probably the most off-putting character in this story, yikes!), defends his client with a long exchange of dialogues with the prosecutors which keeps me at the edge of my seat. The macabre deaths are described vividly to the point I feel like watching a movie. Grisham is so good at describing thrilling scenes and also his intricacy in portraying places with such grace:

The Big Brown River drops nonchalantly south from Tennessee and runs as straight as a hand-dug channel for thirty miles through the center of Tyler County, Mississippi. Two miles above the Ford County line it begins twisting and looping, and by the time it leaves Tyler County it looks like a scared snake, curling desperately and going nowhere. (p.29)

Like any of my favorite novels, the story is put into a broader social context to give deeper nuances around the classic crime-mystery plot. First of all, clientelistic politics. Government officials, like Mackey Don Coley, were bribed for hundreds of dollars by the Padgitts in return for allowing their criminal business to be secured. The town believes that “No honest man could live on such a humble salary (p.34)” I was reminded, oddly enough, of a book I read not long ago for my thesis, “Democracy for Sale” (2019) by Aspinall & Berenschot which depicts collusive interaction between politicians and elites in which state policies are skewed in favor of elites in order to repay campaign donors.

Second, the black and white segregation. The presence of Miss Callie as the first black person serving on the jury was criticized heavily by white people. They assume, with no proof, that she prevented the death sentence for Danny Padgitts which shows how uneducated and misbehaved the blacks are in the positions of responsibility. Willie opposed this idea and defended black people’s rights of equality via his magazine editorial.

Third, neoliberalism is at its finest. A megastore chain, Bargain City, expanded its business into Ford County. Despite the opposition from local merchants and Willie Traynor who spoke at a public hearing, the store took over a large area, leaving small merchants devastated. The sales tax increase may add revenues to the county, but it would be at the expense of customers’ shift from merchants downtown to Bargain City. The government applied zero regulation in favor of the investors. Small stores got out of business.

I like how all the characters are believable, though some don’t necessarily play important roles in moving the plot forward which may be the biggest turn-off in this book. I did get bored in the second half of the book just before a few last pages where a twist came up. Not a fan of the last revelation, though, unfortunately.

So I’ll give this book 3,5 out of 5 stars, yey!


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