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Controversy, Confession and a Gripping Grisham Tale
June 29, 2017 -- I stopped reading John Grisham's bestsellers long ago because I tire easily of authors who continue along in the same vein. I think particularly of Robert Ludlum as one of the other one-note writers that I have abandoned.

But I was recently reintroduced to John Grisham by way of a legal thriller based on several real-life situations and a subject--innocent persons being executed for crimes they did not commit--frequently covered in today's media.

The novel to which I refer, 2010's The Confession, is a solidly plotted, suspenseful story with a powerful message to law enforcement: Don't be in such a rush to execute, even if the death-row inmate has already spent many, many years in that grim environment.

Grisham has spotlighted the polarizing issue of the death penalty in many other novels and articles. He's also a board member of the Innocence Project, which advocates for the exoneration of prisoners deemed wrongly convicted. Many states have banned executions or made sure--or as sure as possible--that all safeguards are in play and that there is no unseemly rush to justice.

The Confession centers around the fate of Dante Drumm, a young black man who has been on Death Row for nine years. He was convicted of the murder of a high school classmate, Nicole Yarber, whose body was never found. A high school football hero in the fictional Slone, Texas, Drumm was popular with the girls and envied by his classmates, one of whom provides false testimony against him.

When Drumm is implicated, he is questioned by Drew Kerber, a ruthless detective, and Paul Koffee, the local prosecutor who cares more about his reputation than the truth. The interrogation gets ugly and sees these two representatives of justice use all manner of illegal tricks and methods as well as a possible beating. Drumm is eventually "persuaded" to confess, although his only real crime is the understandable necessity to get some shut-eye following his harrowing grilling.

Drumm is eventually found guilty and sentenced to death even though there is no body and only circumstantial evidence. The story picks up just a few days before his scheduled execution.

Even as time is running out, Robbie Flak, Drumm's dedicated defense attorney, is trying desperately to negotiate a delay or even an acquittal for the innocent man. But it doesn't look good. The maneuvering by local law enforcement authorities to ensure Drumm's execution involves several repugnant twists. The actions of the Texas governor, a strong supporter of the death penalty, are particularly egregious.

Drumm's confession, how it is obtained and how it is presented at trial, obviously plays an essential role in the story. But the resolution of this nail-biting tale shifts from Drumm's dilemma and the defense's tactics to the Reverend Keith Schroeder, a Lutheran pastor in Topeka, Kansas.

Schroeder receives an unexpected visitor, Travis Boyette, a middle-aged man who identifies himself as a career criminal and parolee with a long rap sheet of sexual assaults. Apparently dying of brain cancer, Boyette says (with some hesitation) that he wishes to confess to being the man who abducted, raped and murdered Nicole Yarber.

What is a man of God supposed to do? It is illegal to transport a convicted felon across state lines, but Boyette says he will not only confess, but also take them to the place where the murder victim is buried. And why is Reverend Schroeder the man to carry out this tricky mission when both his wife and the local district attorney are dead set against him making the trip?

Will Drumm be executed? Or saved? After delaying the journey, will Reverend Schroeder get the real murderer to Texas in time to change the outcome? I won't spoil the ending.

The Confession makes a compelling case against the death penalty. No matter your feelings about its validity, Grisham's tension-filled tale will see many rethinking their position on capital punishment.

John Grisham's The Confession is available in hard cover, paperback and ebook formats from Amazon.com. It is also available as an audio book from Audible.com.


This column is Copyright 2017 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Martin B. Deutsch. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.