Just as he did with his non-fiction work, "An Innocent Man," John Grisham clearly has an agenda with "The Confession."
Whereas "Man" was about an innocent finding justice and freedom after years of incarceration, "The Confession" asks the question of just what might happen if an innocent man were sent to death row.
Four days before Donté Drumm is set to die for the murder of popular cheerleader, Travis Boyette walks into the office of a Lutheran minister in Topeka, Kansas and says he knows the real truth. Seems Boyette kidnapped and killed the girl (in addition to sexually assaulting her) and then allowed Drumm to take the blame all these years. Boyette knows where the body is, a fact that could exonerate Drumm. Boyette was helped by a potentially less than legal confession given by Drumm, a questionable eye witness account by the cheerleader’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, racial politics and the fact that the prosecutor and the judge were sleeping together.
As Drumm’s lawyer, Robbie Flak exhausts every legal option, Boyette wavers on whether he wants to confess to the crime. Finally convinced by the minister to confess the crime and hopefully save Donte’s life, the two head to Texas to try and stop the execution from happening.
What you’ve got here is your typical Grisham underdog lawyer as hero novel, only this time with slightly higher stakes and a relentless political agenda. Any doubts about where Grisham stands on capital punishment are clearly erased within the first hundred pages, but it’s not until the last hundred that the agenda behind the story becomes overbearing. The first two thirds are powerful and compelling as Grisham asks the horrifying question of what if an innocent person were condemned to death. The drive as each party races against time to try and at least postpone the execution keeps the pages turning for the first two thirds of the story. Then things get heavy handed and the novel loses momentum.
In some ways, the story will remind you of Grisham’s first and arguably best work, "A Time to Kill." But where that novel was willing to at least entertain the notion that there are shades of gray, "The Confession" doesn’t.
In the end, it makes the novel a weaker one as a whole and a less than satisfying reading experience.