Sunday, March 14, 2004

Well, tomorrow I'm back at school. Have missed my students, my colleagues, my office. Managed to get graded almost everything I had.

Finished the Grisham book. Wasn't going to read it because I didn't want to get back to school with an unfinished book on my hands. But I started and really got into it so I finished it yesterday. (The ironic thing is that once done, I had to have something to read, so I started rereading a book by Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness. I won't finish, of course, but I've already read it so I guess I don't mind.)

Okay, so here's an informal review of John Grisham's The Last Juror. I have enjoyed every Grisham novel I have read (have listened to a handful on audio tape). I'm a bit biased to books where legal matters are at the center, so one can take that for what it is worth. I have not yet read his mainstream novels, though I am certainly interested in doing so, particularly after reading this story and The Testament.

The Last Juror, set in 1970s Mississippi, is more than a legal thriller. It is a kind of cross between mystery and mainstream, slice of life novel. The narrator of the story is a young man who comes to work at a small, county newspaper and ends up as the paper's owner. Willie Traynor, shortly after writes the first profile of a black citizen, a woman named Callie Ruffin. After he reports about the trial of a notorious citizen (Danny Padgett) for the brutal rape and murder of a single mother, Traynor finds he is selling paper after paper, and making an extraordinary group of friends. Padgett is released from prison after serving nine years and Ford Country deal with a mysterious reign of terror.

What I like about the book. The story could have bogged down in the sleepiness of the rural area, but doesn't and does not resort to cheap tricks to keep the reader interested. The characters themselves are interesting and real. I am particularly grateful that Mr. Grisham has the guts to portray a Christian as a real person and one whose faith is not something to ridicule. Even if one doesn't agree or like everything Miss Callie says, it would be difficult to despise her religion. Grisham created another favorably drawn Christian in the missionary in The Testament. I hope more of this occurs. There is no preaching in Grisham's book, because there doesn't need to be. The "message," if there is one is clear and strong, but doesn't sacrifice good storytelling. A non-believer is likely to find the characters as interesting as people in different places in their spiritual lives. I also liked the fact that the person telling this story is not a lawyer (though there are certainly interesting lawyers here). The story encompasses more than those who are involved in the murder. As in the real world, these deaths affect everyone. So this is a story about many people.

What bugs me. Mostly the loose ends. One of Miss Callie's sons has disappeared. We find out why, but then we are suddenly told that he has contacted the narrator. The contact isn't part of the story, but just told to us. Then he returns, and though he is guarded, the person who most wants to hurt him simply disappears from the story. There are less important places where the narrative could use some tightening, but they do not detract from a good story.

Concern. I don' t want to give anything away, but I'm wondering why nearly every Grisham novel ends with the protagonist leaving his profession. Most of the characters leave the legal profession, and given their individual circumstances, I can see why. But here is a guy who spend nine years becoming a part of life in town and building a successful business. I can see why he gets "tired" and maybe fed up. However, I still wonder. If I could interview Grisham, I would have to ask him about this.

Okay. There it is. I strongly recommend the book, but had to get my reservations off my chest.

Forgot to mention the other day when I was rambling about the books I've been reading that I also read a novel by Stephen Lawhead and his son Ross entitled City of Dreams. This is the first of a trilogy of books that are based, as best as I can tell, on a rock opera and a series of comic books/graphic novel. Ross Lawhead is the penciler (sp) for the comics. I have liked every book I have read by Stephen Lawhead. His Byzantium is not only the best historical novel I've encountered, but the most fascinating story of a spiritual journey published by a living author.

City of Dreams is obviously part of the gospel story told for a modern audience. The main character is Alex Hunter, an agent trying to find the killer of a prophet named Washer John who is the cousin of power spiritual leader named Joshua Jones. The story, in many ways, is a typical thriller. Hunter is dedicated to justice to completing his mission, to redeeming his own good name and making up for past mistakes. He doesn't know who to trust, but relies on his wits more than gizmos to survive and find his way. And the narrative is fast-paced, never dull. Even when I feel like I know where this thing is going, I don't mind. The ride is exciting.

What troubles me is the ending. I know this is the first of three books, but the story seems to end without closure. One expects at least a couple more chapters. One thing that makes Stephen Lawhead's book so good is that even in the midst of a series (and few of his novels are not part of a series) one gets the sense that the story stands on its own even while you are primed for the next book.

Okay, I've rambled on far too much. Time to get busy on real work.

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