Justice and journalism
The year is 1970, and callow college dropout Will Traynor, with six months of journalism experience, buys the local newspaper in Clanton, Mississippi. The business is moribund until a woman is raped and murdered, handing Will the opportunity to triple its circulation overnight. What follows is the story of the trial and its aftermath ten years later, when murderer is paroled. Along the way, Will, who has morphed into “Willie”, makes some good friends and some colorful ones, learns about and finds gradual acceptance in town, and chronicles the changes that rock the Clanton’s foundations: the decade ushers in racial integration, the residents face up to the outlaw Padgitt clan, big box retailers change the face of Main Street, and the controversy over Viet Nam grows ever hotter.
The plot of the Last Juror evolves slowly, although the intermittent violence that erupts prevents the development of ennui. This novel’s strength lies in its characters, particularly those of Will and Miss Callie, who comes to serve as a moral beacon in the young man’s life. But all of the characters ring true, from the shady lawyer to the newspaper’s redneck photographer. Grisham has become a master at evoking the atmosphere of the deep South, and a sense of nostalgia pervades throughout (think “Driving Miss Daisy”). But this is a story of change, its central issues revolving around questions of integrity and honor. It opens and closes with the writing of obituaries, but the Will who is writing the last one has come a long way. So has Clanton, Mississippi.
Memorable, and highly recommended.