THE LAST JUROR

John Grisham, Author . Doubleday $27.95 (355p) ISBN 978-0-385-51043-1

Grisham has spent the last few years stretching his creative muscles through a number of genres: his usual legal thrillers (The Summons , The King of Torts , etc.), a literary novel (The Painted House ), a Christmas book (Skipping Christmas ) and a high school football elegy (Bleachers ). This experimentation seems to have imbued his writing with a new strength, giving exuberant life to this compassionate, compulsively readable story of a young man's growth from callowness to something approaching wisdom. Willie Traynor, 23 and a college dropout, is working as a reporter on a small-town newspaper, the Ford County Times , in Clanton, Miss. When the paper goes bankrupt, Willie turns to his wealthy grandmother, who loans him $50,000 to buy it. Backed by a stalwart staff, Willie labors to bring the newspaper back to health. A month after his first issue, he gets the story of a lifetime, the murder of beautiful young widow Rhoda Kasselaw. After being raped and knifed, the nude Rhoda staggered next door and whispered to her neighbor as she was dying, "Danny Padgitt. It was Danny Padgitt." The killer belongs to an infamous clan of crooked highway contractors, killers and drug smugglers who live on impregnable Padgitt Island. Willie splashes the murder all over the Times , making him both an instant success and a marked man. The town is up in arms, demanding Danny's head. After a near miss (the Padgitts are known for buying themselves out of trouble), Danny is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. As he's dragged out of the courtroom, he vows revenge on the jurors. Willie finds, to his consternation, that in Mississippi life doesn't necessarily mean life, so in nine years Danny is back out—and jurors begin to die. Around and through this plot Grisham tells the sad, heroic, moving stories of the eccentric inhabitants of Clanton, a small town balanced between the pleasures and perils of the old and the new South. The novel is heartfelt, wise, suspenseful and funny, one of the best Grishams ever. (Feb. 3)

Reviewed on: 02/02/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
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