Grisham, John. The Last Juror. London: Doubleday, 2004.
Among the reasons I read Grisham is his generally spot-on depiction of the American South, a place I know somewhat (having lived there for four years) and miss a little. The South of The Last Juror is actually a place I've never visited, for the book is set in the 1970s, in a world where (at the beginning of the novel) schools are still segregated, only a handful of blacks are able to vote, and a family such as that of character Miss Callie--who has seven children with PhDs--was a remarkable anomaly.
Into this world of prejudice and debate comes young Willie Traynor, who first joins staff of the local newspaper and then purchases the newspaper as his own. It is Willie who covers the murder trial of Danny Padgitt, whose crimes against single mother Rhoda Kasselaw are described in chapter two. The remainder of the novel is as much a character study as it is a crime novel, and--in a wonderful turn of focus--the character study is less entranced by the criminal mind of the murderer than by the responses of others to his crime. Traynor's response is that of an average twenty-something eager to make money from his first paper; Miss Callie's is a little more restrained. Throughout the book, Grisham constantly returns to the same question of character, and one that is asked of every juror at the Padgitt trial: "If you're on the jury, and the jury finds Mr Padgitt guilty of these crimes, can you vote and put him to death? . . . Can you?" (175, mass market ed).
A rousing study of humanity set against a situation of controversy and unrest make this a fine book, and--as with most of Grisham's novels--an excellent quick read.