THE LAST JUROR
Doubleday, March 2004
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
A twenty-three year old journalism school dropout, Will Traynor becomes the owner of a small town newspaper in Ford County, Mississippi. Traynor acquires ownership of The Ford County Times for a song when bankruptcy forces longtime owner Wilson Caudle to retire. Newspaper circulation is way down until the son of an old southern family becomes embroiled in a sensational murder. Traynor builds the newspaper readership and earns a reputation for himself based on the coverage of Danny Padgitt's trial for the rape and murder of a young widow.
The remarkable Callie Ruffin is married with eight children, seven of whom hold PhD's and are college professors. When Will Traynor takes over the Times, he writes a feature on this extraordinary African American family. In the process of writing the story Traynor forms an unusual friendship with Miz Callie and falls in love with her incredible talent for preparing southern cuisine. Soon Miz Callie is summoned and selected to serve as the first black juror in the 1970's Mississippi trial of Danny Padgitt.
The infamous Padgitts have wielded influence over Ford County like a sort of Dixie Mafia for over one hundred years. During the trial, Padgitt threatens the jury, "You convict me and I will get every damned one of you." Padgitt is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, but nine years later he mysteriously returns to Ford County when he is paroled. Ford Countians chalk it up to corrupt political dealings, and soon a killer's reign of terror begins.
In THE LAST JUROR Grisham revisits Clanton, Mississippi, the fictional town from his first novel A TIME TO KILL. Willie Traynor's journey and growth from a quixotic young reporter into a hardened newspaper owner is powerfully written. I looked forward to Will's Thursday lunches on Miz Callie's front porch as much as Will did. Grisham captures the mood and times of the Deep South in a way that gets under your skin. Fans will recognize Lucien Wilbanks, Jake Brigance's co-counsel from A TIME TO KILL, who makes a reappearance as Danny Padgitt's lawyer.
Readers will be charmingly seduced by the eccentric characters and bountiful descriptions of southern cuisine. THE LAST JUROR has the humor and appeal of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES and the drama of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD all rolled into one story. I loved these characters and savored every page. This is one of Grisham's finest novels and displays the kind of skilled writing that have made him a perennial bestseller.
May 2004 Review
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