In his new paperback John Grisham appears to be getting more into the possibility of community-active pastors and Good Samaritans. Lutheran Pastor Keith has been approached by Travis a paroled convict who is just about through his half-way house stay, but also dying from a brain tumour. Something led him to the church.
Travis' criminal record is repugnant. A repeat sex offender. The scene of their discussions is Topeka, Kansas. Over near Slone, Texas a young black football star is about to die for the kidnapping and murder of a high school cheerleader. He maintains his innocence after nine years of appeals claiming a tortuously coerced confession, unreasonable disallowance of exonerating alibis, a trumped-up jailhouse snitch, a biased trial judge, a politically motivated District Attorney and the absence of the teenager's body.
The ex-con knows that the wrong man is going to his death. Travis did the deed and has detailed facts which put him in the scene including possession of the young girl's high school ring. He has buried the body out of state. Meanwhile the authorities have focused on a certain river where contents of the girl's purse were discovered (thrown out of the car by Travis).
Pastor Keith and his wife Dana struggle with whether or not to get involved. They have had no contact whatsoever with the death row youth or his devastated family. Travis is not entirely convinced whether to "fess up". The pastor is fettered with confidentiality requirements. Would he personally risk parole violations and other recriminations in taking the murderer out of state to the secret grave? Would he go to the law without the confessor's consent? Could anything stop the State's momentum now?
Meanwhile the Texas town is getting ready for an execution day outburst of angered black citizens seeing their young pride victimized by bigotry and outrageous cover-up. All this in the state of Texas which appears to be in a hurry with "the needle" in more and more cases. The Governor is a heartless boor with terrible advisors.
Great pace. Arresting legal issues. Mystifying character development and psychiatric profiles. A trouble-maker for a defense attorney, Robbie Flak (a.k.a."Flake" or "Flask"), riddled with divorces and professional misconduct episodes, but absolutely heroic in his efforts to save a life.
Pastor Keith goes through extended torment and sleeplessness to get the real killer to the defense legal team and to the place of execution of the youth Donte Drumm. A barrage of appeals, all last-minute, has been volleyed...
"It was Thursday, the second one in November, and at that moment the Ladies' Bible Class was meeting in the vestry of St. Mark's Lutheran for the continuation of their study of the Gospel of Luke, to be followed by a pasta dinner in the kitchen. Keith, Dana, and the boys were always invited to the dinner and usually attended. He really missed his church, and his family, and he wasn't sure why he was having such thoughts as he stared at the very dark head of Donte Drumm. It contrasted sharply with the white shirt he was wearing and the snow-white sheets around him. The leather straps (on the execution table) were light brown"...(page 333)
(See our earlier post of Sept. 4/09 entitled "Sick 'em, Holy Ghost".)