The Last Juror

By: John Grisham

Rating: 85%

Brief Summary: A trial happens in the beginning. Its over with quickly. The lead character matures.

In The Last Juror, we read about a young writer, Willie Traynor - in what may be John Grisham's most successful achievement of character development to date. Almost the entire story takes place in the 1970's.

It is a story that shows the maturing - and growth - of one person over the progression of several years. Traynor, who is 23 and a college dropout, is working as a reporter on a small-town newspaper, the Ford County Times in Clanton, Mississippi. When the paper goes bankrupt, Willie turns to his wealthy grandmother for a loan of $50,000 to buy it. At a young age, Willie - and his capable staff - resurrect the paper back to life. Almost immediately after, the story of a lifetime falls into his hands: The rape and subsequent murder of a young widow - Rhoda Kasselaw. After being raped and stabbed, Rhoda tells her neighbor - with her last dying breath "Danny Padgitt. It was Danny Padgitt."

Padgitt is part of an infamous family of crooked thugs, killers and drug smugglers who live isolated on the fortress-like "Padgitt Island". Willie headlines 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 almost wiggling out of a sentence, 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 that in Mississippi, "life" doesn't necessarily mean life - in nine years Danny Padgitt is back and jurors begin to die.

This basic synopsis I have given - which closely mirrors the summary on the book cover - I found might be a bit misleading. The Last Juror is first - and foremost - about the maturation of Willie and secondly about the trial. In fact the trial only takes place over 2 - 3 chapters in the middle of the story.

Willie, who left this small town of Clanton for "the north" has come back and finds that life in Mississippi is different then what he was accustomed to. So the bulk of this novel establishes this fact, and then resolves it by showing that Willie will eventually adapt and root his life back at home. The murder and the subsequent trial are merely ways of advancing the story in order to keep it from being stagnate. Personally, I did not find this story easy to read in a short period of time. Not because the reading was difficult or sluggish - it definitely was not - but the story at times does not leave the reader feeling any suspense and the need to continue reading another chapter.

The story is told in the first person through the eyes of Willie. Although it works for the most part - sometimes Grisham switches into narrative mode to develop background information - of which there is plenty in this novel.

In The Last Juror we see some overlapping (minor) characters from A Time to Kill. A younger - and somewhat more sober - Lucian Wilbanks, is the attorney defending Padgitt. And Harry Rex is a close friend of Willie.

Other characters include one of the jurors that Willie befriends. It is a woman who becomes the first black person to sit on a jury in Mississippi. She has a somewhat small part that grows into one of the more fundamental plots in the last chapters. Her family is also introduced in the plot.

Overall, this story has a lot of heart. It features serious matters, yet has humorous moments. However, do not go into this novel thinking it is a story of action and suspense featuring a long trial followed by revenge serial killings - as the summary on the book jacket implies, but rather a slow journey of character development.

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