Thursday, April 10, 2008
The Innocent Man
I think I've read all of John Grishams' books. I'm not sure really why since I'm not a super fan. Most are entertaining though and not hard to get through. On the back jacket, one review is quoted as saying "his best legal thriller yet" which is a far cry from the truth.
This is Grisham's first attempt at non-fiction. He says he chose it because of it's rarity. A white man in a white town charged with killing a white woman with white policemen, white lawyers and judge and jury. Apparently, the absence of racial tensions is profound to him.
This is no thriller, as you know the accused didn't do it from the title, and you know early on that he is eventually exonerated. So it is a story of his background, how he came to be the kind of guy that could be accused of such a crime and some background on pretty much every other character involved. You know a bit about his family, his friends, the victim, her family, the town, the baseball coach. Really, I found that it rambles and has a hard time staying on task. On the inside of the book jacket, it reads, "If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you." I found none to be the case. As with everything, those without resources, friends, money, mental capacities usually get a bad deal. It isn't fair. But I don't think it's a broken system. He had lawyers. Not the absolute best (by far), but lawyers. He refused so much treatment for his mental illness because he wasn't mentally fit to accept it. Whose fault is that? America's? His family's? I don't know. But he was sent to death row for a brutal crime he was found guilty of (that is the one thing that actually does disturb. That someone could be convicted with pretty flimsy evidence.) But that is in hindsight which is always perfect.
As Grisham lashes out at the legal system, I couldn't help but notice that it actually worked for this innocent man. Because it was a capital case with automatic appeals, eventually, someone working for a federal judge who can grant stays noticed the bad legal work. He got a stay, a new trial, new fancy lawyers and eventually a reversed judgment. It worked. He was robbed of time and freedom and there is no doubt that he was a victim of a mistake but he sued, and won several million dollars. Mistakes happen but I can't think of a better place for them to happen than in America.
Overall, I thought this book was too long, too haughty and really not that interesting. It would have made a nice magazine article. Real life is complicated and in a case like this, where there are so many people involved, Grisham stretched the readers interest too thin and in too many directions. If you are looking for a slow meander through a complicated legal system....this is your book.