In 1970, one of Mississippi's more colorful weekly newspapers, The Ford County Times, went bankrupt. To the surprise and dismay of many, ownership was assumed by a 23 year-old college dropout, named Willie Traynor. The future of the paper looked grim until a young mother was brutally raped and murdered by a member of the notorious Padgitt family. Willie Traynor reported all the gruesome details, and his newspaper began to prosper.
The murderer, Danny Padgitt, was tried before a packed courthouse in Clanton, Mississippi. The trial came to a startling and dramatic end when the defendant threatened revenge against the jurors if they convicted him. Nevertheless, they found him guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
But in Mississippi in 1970, "life" didn't necessarily mean "life," and nine years later Danny Padgitt managed to get himself paroled. He returned to Ford County, and the retribution began.
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In 1970, small town newspaper The Clanton Times went belly up. With financial assistance from a rich relative, it's purchased by 23-year-old Willie Traynor, formerly the paper's cub reporter. Soon afterward, his new business receives the readership boost it needs thanks to his editorial efforts and coverage of a particularly brutal rape and murder committed by the scion of the town's reclusive bootlegger family. Rather than shy from reporting on the subsequent open-and-shut trial (those who oppose the Padgitt family tend to turn up dead in the area's swampland), Traynor launches a crusade to ensure the unrepentant murderer is brought to justice. When a guilty verdict is returned, the town is relieved to find the Padgitt family's grip on the town did not sway the jury, though Danny Padgitt is sentenced to life in prison rather than death. But, when Padgitt is released after serving less than a decade in jail and members of the jury are murdered, Clanton once again finds itself at the mercy of its renegade family.
When it comes, the dénouement is no surprise; The Last Juror is less a story of suspense than a study of the often idyllic southern town of Clanton, Mississippi (the setting for Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill). Throughout the nine years between Padgitt's trial and release, Traynor finds acceptance in Clanton, where the people "don't really trust you unless they trusted your grandfather." He grows from a long-haired idealist into another of the town's colorful characters--renovating an old house, sporting a bowtie, beloved on both sides of the color line, and the only person to have attended each of the town's 88 churches at least once. The Last Juror returns Grisham to the courtroom where he made his name, but those who enjoyed the warm sentiment of his recent novels (Bleachers, A Painted House) will still find much to love here. --Benjamin ReeseAbout the Author:
JOHN GRISHAM is the author of seventeen novels. THE LAST JUROR is his first novel since A TIME TO KILL to be set in Ford County, Mississippi.
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