The Guardians by John Grisham. (Dell, 2020)
“Duke Russell is not guilty of the unspeakable crimes for which he was convicted; nonetheless, he is scheduled to be executed for them in one hour and forty-five minutes.”
Are you hooked? I am.
When I taught Creative Writing, one of the first lessons on writing prose was, “You have to capture the reader in the first paragraph or chances are, you may lose him/her.” John Grisham, author of 35 novels, most of which are suspense books, is the master at casting his line and hooking in the reader from the first paragraph.
What could be a better beginning than to put a man into Death Row for a crime which he did not commit, and set the timer until execution for 1 hour and 45 minutes?
Grisham usually uses the first-person narrative in his stories. In this case, we meet Cullen Post, who works currently for Guardian Ministries, a firm similar to the Innocence Projects around the country, who work to free innocent prisoners who have been wrongly convicted.
Post had left the law at a young age. Assigned by the D.A.’s office to represent a 15-year-old gang banger, who is being indicted for a gruesome murder, Post dreads defending him. When Post and his client make their first appearance in court, Post is overwhelmed suddenly with the realization that “Hated by my client, Hated by his victims, What the hell was I doing in that courtroom?”
Overwhelmed by the situation in which he finds himself, Post walks out of the courtroom and out of his career in the law. During his hiatus from the courtroom, Post becomes an Episcopalian minister, which he finds to be quite helpful in his work with the Guardian Ministries.
Post’s newest client is Quincy Miller, who has spent 22 years behind bars for a crime which he insists that he had not committed. For 15 years of his confinement, Quincy had been unrepresented by the legal system, until the Guardian Ministries agreed to work toward his exoneration. Quincy’s conviction for killing Keith Russo, the lawyer who had represented him during Quincy’s divorce, lacks solid substance, and Post believes that he can get it overturned..
Quincy’s conviction had been based on the testimony of three witnesses, all of whom the prisoner contends lied on the stand. The only physical evidence had been a small flashlight that allegedly had blood splatter on it that supposedly was Quincy’s. The problem regarding the flashlight as evidence is that it had against Quincy Miller had been very flimsy.
The story takes off as soon as the real killers get wind of the fact that someone is poking into the Quincy Miller case. The murderers do everything in their power to get rid of Quincy before his case can be retried. For the rest of the novel, Post travels around the country, chasing intriguing leads that could change the conviction, while his client is nearly murdered.
Included in the story are some wonderful scenes where Post and his associate must enter a house, in which there may be three boxes of evidence that, if found, could prove that Quincy had not killed his lawyer. The family who owns the house does not want to open it for any reason as they truly believe that it is haunted and their grandmother, a witch, had put a curse on it. The scenes leading to the discovery of the evidence are so much unexpected fun in this kind of story.
Post, unlucky in love, is a well-rounded character. His commitment to his clients is strong and empathetic. With a character like Post, and an organization like the Guardian, I hope that Grisham will bring him and the Guardians return for several sequels.