Cover image of "The Confession," a John Grisham novel

If you read books, then you almost certainly know the name John Grisham. To date, he’s published 37 bestselling adult novels and seven for children, as well as three nonfiction books. Eleven of his novels have been adapted into feature films and four into television series. His books have sold an estimated 300 million copies worldwide. The second John Grisham novel, The Firm (1991), set the pattern, selling seven million copies.


Take The Confession, for example, published in 2010. The novel tells a familiar story: a young African-American man is railroaded into a guilty verdict by the so-called justice system of the State of Texas. The real rapist and murderer surfaces, but not in time to stop the young man’s execution for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. Only later is justice served, after a fashion, when the young man is posthumously exonerated. End of story? Not really.

The Confession by John Grisham (2010) 450 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of a Texas county courthouse, where the action unfolds in this John Grisham novel
A county courthouse in Texas, where justice miscarries in this novel. Image: Tour Texas

No soaring prose in this novel

It’s a great story, really, and such a brief synopsis can’t possibly do justice to the plot, the characters, the setting, the details of the legal system, or, for that matter, the author. But the fact remains: it’s just a story.

Not only that: it’s also a story very simply told. You’d search in vain through the pages of The Confession for even a single writerly turn of phrase. There’s no stylistic flourish, no soaring prose. Just simple Anglo-Saxon dialogue and narrative. Grisham even lapses once into the hideous attorney’s phrase, “pursuant to.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a great fan of John Grisham’s legal thrillers, many of which I’ve read. And I enjoyed The Confession enormously. Whenever Grisham publishes another one—he’s just 67 now, so there are likely many more to come—I’ll almost certainly read that one, too.

So, again, why?

Masterful plotting

The answer to the nagging question of why his books are so popular isn’t all that simple. It’s partly a matter of craft, of course. Grisham’s plotting is masterful. He weaves together the threads of each story into a compelling and often heart-pounding tale. Every incident, every flashback, every character, every word appears just exactly where it needs to appear to move the story along. There’s nothing superfluous in John Grisham’s writing—not a thought, not a word (except maybe “pursuant to”). But other writers have mastered the craft of writing suspense novels. Lots of them.

A deep-seated passion for justice

What John Grisham brings to his work as a writer—other than his deep knowledge of the law and its application in the South—is more than just craft. For one thing, he clearly has a deep-seated passion for justice. The Confession, like other memorable stories he’s told in writing, is a loud cry for the ideals of our legal system to be put into practice. When Grisham tells the story of a young man—and, for that matter, his family and his community—victimized by a corrupt system, he’s relating to us a true story of America today.

Grisham strikes a deep chord of recognition in us all, because we’ve heard that story before, again and again, on our television and computer screens and in our newspapers. And the details of the story don’t matter, because we know in our hearts that the unprincipled police officers and prosecutors and judges, the self-seeking politicians, the heartless insurance executives, and the greedy lawyers that populate Grisham’s books are the people we believe are running our lives.

John Grisham has emerged as one of the premier chroniclers of our time because he’s telling our story.

About the author

Photo of John Grisham, author of this John Grisham novel
John Grisham. Image: Charlotte Graham Photography

John Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1955 and educated at Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi Law School. Throughout his careers in the law and as an author, he has remained closely identified with the American South. He practiced criminal law for about a decade and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990. He published his first novel, A Time to Kill, in 1989. The most recent, The Judge’s List, appeared in 2021. Grisham is one of the wealthiest writers in the world.

For additional reading

Among the many John Grisham novels I’ve reviewed, the most recent are these:

The Confession is one of 17 fascinating courtroom dramas reviewed.

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