JB has been a Grisham fan for his whole life, I’m sure. When I first moved my books to his place, I noticed that Grisham books occupied a large chunk of his collection (and he only had 2 books by lady authors….that has definitely changed). I was wary of joining the Grisham bandwagon, mostly because I have an underlying belief that super prolific writers can’t produce quality work. This was my second Grisham novel, and I think I’m softening up…a little.
I listened to this book in my car (how else can I read while in nursing school?), and felt so many emotions throughout the entirety. The basic summary: A small town in Oklahoma is rocked by a series of attacks on women and a gruesome murder that the police took control of by forcing confessions on suspects they had no evidence on. A true story, it infuriates the reader with the inefficiency of the justice system, and truly shows how poor people are guilty until proven innocent. Sure, if you’re poor you’ll be appointed an attorney, but the attorneys are often not interested in the case and don’t put forth much effort, as is what happened here. The case was never fully solved, but the book takes you through the characters’ journeys in the justice system as well as the psychiatric protocol that Oklahoma follows. A very sad story, but one that needed to be told.
This was one of the last John Grisham books I read this year in my quest to finish his entire collection. I think I wrote about this a little earlier but I read a bunch of Jonathan Franzen, which made me feel like I would never be a real fiction writer. So, to cleanse my pallet and remind myself there are all kinds of writers and not all writers exist on as many metaphysical plains as Jonathan Franzen, I read a bunch of Grisham. There is something attainable about Grisham. There is something relatable about Grisham. I have been characters in his books (figuratively of course, but also almost literally).
The Innocent Man is his lone foray into long-form journalism and creative non-fiction. Being the long-winded writer he is, there are places where I had to slog through, but as a work it had an affect on me. Covering the court system on and off for the past seven years, I’ve always felt weird about the death penalty, but came to the conclusion it was the only thing there was to do. After reading this book — and not solely because I read this book, but partially thanks to it — I’m not a fan of the death penalty any longer.
There is definitely something that should be done to the people who have been convicted of murder. At the same time, there is so much pressure placed on under-staffed and under-equipped police departments to solve crimes that they are given no incentive to question a guilty plea. As people we want justice until a crime hits close to home, and then we want revenge or punishment. We want to see some legal action exacted on the person who seems guiltiest. That was the case in the Oklahoma towns detailed in the Innocent Man. Young men, who were in compromising positions, but who weren’t necessarily guilty, were pressured and held and yelled at until they told police what the community wanted to hear. It teaches a lesson in what happens when we seek out justice and punishment at all cost.
This is probably the most under-read but most meaningful book Grisham has published. I highly recommend it.