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The Last Juror
by John Grisham
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Reviewed by: Norman Goldman

You have to admit that the mere mention of the name John Grisham seems to invoke a love or hate reaction among bibliophiles. You either vigorously defend his writing style or you dismiss it as "schlock" writing.

Candidly, I have to admit that I am always seduced when Grisham publishes a new book, and very rarely I have been disappointed. His latest foray, The Last Juror, although perhaps not as exciting as, A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief, or The Firm, none-the-less says a great deal for a 355 page novel, if you can complete its reading on a 4 hour plane ride. Generally, with all good intentions, whenever I begin reading a book on a plane, I have a tendency to fall asleep. Such was not the case with The Last Juror.

The latest of Grisham's novels is set in Clanton, Mississippi, where a young twenty three year old college dropout, Willie Traynor, purchases the town's bankrupt newspaper, The Ford County Times. Traynor has little experience in running a newspaper, let alone being a journalist. His claim to fame has been his experience of writing obituaries for the newspaper prior to its bankruptcy.

Timing they say is just about everything when it comes to making the best of opportunities, and fortunately for Traynor, he was at the right place at the right time when an horrendous crime was committed in the town of Clanton. A young widow was brutally raped and murdered in front of her two young children by one of the town's outcasts, Danny Padgitt, who is a member of a powerful and politically influential local crime family. There are suggestions that the family would be able to tamper with the jury by either threatening them or bribing them.

Given the opportunity to cover the trial, Traynor makes the best of it and propels the newspaper's circulation to heights it never previously attained. However, in so doing he brings about the wrath of the Padgitt family.

Prior to this hideous crime and subsequent trial, Traynor befriended a Miss Callie Ruffin while he was researching a feature about her remarkable family. It turns out that Callie is named as one of the jurors and the only black member. The result brings out the best and worst in people in a town that is trying to come to terms with the politics of the civil rights movement of the '60s, the Vietnam war, and urban development.

Grisham never loses sight of his characters and their idiosyncrasies, as well as their ancestry, customs and beliefs. All of this is cleverly intertwined in a tightly plotted and riveting narrative. It is the kind of a book that you may want to read twice; once for its thrilling aspect, and again for the way Grisham plays around with time and place to give dramatic and tantalizing effect.

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