Nine years ago in the small town of Sloan, Texas, Donté Drumm, a black high school football star, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the murder of a white cheerleader –- a crime he confessed to but did not commit. The victim's body was never found, the jury was all white, the confession was coerced, the judge was having an extramarital affair with the prosecutor, the victim's boyfriend and a jailhouse snitch both provided perjured testimony against the defendant, and one of the key witnesses for the prosecution was a dog. Despite all this, and the tireless efforts of Drumm's crusading defense attorney Robbie Flak, the execution is only days away. There appears to be no hope. But meanwhile, in Topeka, Kansas, a just-paroled convict named Travis Boyette, dying (or so he says) of a brain tumor and not wanting to see the innocent Drumm die, confesses to the murder to Lutheran pastor Keith Schroeder, and they rush to Texas in an attempt to prevent the execution. Will they succeed, or will a demonstrably innocent man be executed?
The fact that the question is answered two-thirds of the way through The Confession, John Grisham's latest bestseller, and we slog through to the end demonstrates yet again that Grisham can keep us turning the pages no matter what. The book is just too long and too unfocused. Although at first glance The Confession appears to be an anti-death-penalty novel, the injustices heaped up against Drumm by all involved -- from the small-town police department, prosecutor, judge, and white citizenry, to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas governor, all the way to the District Courts and the United States Supreme Court –- are so egregious that Grisham makes little or no case against capital punishment itself. One does not need to be a death-penalty opponent to find repugnant the blatant railroading of someone so clearly innocent. Those who oppose the death penalty need to make a case against executing those who are clearly guilty, and The Confession is no help in this regard.