“The Last Juror” isn’t what I would call typical Grisham. It focuses on Willie Traynor, a newbie to the tiny town of Clanton, Mississippi and new owner and editor of the Ford County Times.
Willie is a young hot shot from Memphis who honestly thinks he’s better than most of the people in town. Willie gets the idea to run a human interest story about a local family who has seen six of the seven children get Ph.D.’s. The only issue is this is 1970s Mississippi and this family is black. Undeterred, Willie befriends the family matriarch, Callie, and writes the story for his paper.
“The Last Juror” is broken up into three parts. The first part focuses on the trial of Danny Padgitt. The Padgitts are sort of the Mafia of Ford County and the youngest Padgitt, Danny, has just raped and murdered a woman in front of her small children. The town of Clanton, which hasn’t seen a murder in years, is up in arms. The Padgitts are scum and everybody knows it, but they have a way of buying themselves out of trouble. The good thing is the judge knows this and so does the prosecution, so everyone is working to get Danny the sentence he deserves. Callie is selected to be on Danny’s jury. Danny ends up being sentenced to two concurrent life terms, which means his two life sentences will be served together versus one after the other, but not before threatening to kill every juror if they convict him. This is exciting stuff and what I expect from Grisham.
The second part of the book focuses on how Willie is settling in to Clanton and his relationship with Callie and her family. While I understand the need for this section of the novel for character development, it is far too long. I already feel invested in these characters, so there isn’t a need to beat me over the head with how great they are and what their lives are like.
The third part of the book, which is the main section, talks about the jurors being murdered and brings the book to a close. This section is also much more exciting than the middle and more of what people expect from a Grisham novel.
I was excited to read this book because most of Grisham’s novels focus on lawyers, so I thought this novel would be something different and, while it was different, it was different in a way I did not enjoy.