The Innocent Man by John Grisham: Review

Posted September 23, 2016 in review Tags: , ,

The Innocent Man by John Grisham: ReviewThe Innocent Man by John Grisham
Pages: 458

Genres: True Crime
Narrator: Craig Wasson
Amazon iBooks

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In the vein of Serial and Making a Murderer, John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence. Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, it’s a book no American can afford to miss.

In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the Big Leagues, Ron stumbled, his dreams broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then, on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron’s home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death—in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man’s already broken life, and let a true killer go free.

The Innocent Man
John Grisham

I love true crime. My obsession started with documentaries on Netflix or HBO. Then I moved on to podcasts. Now, true crime books! So, I snagged The Innocent Man from the library. I mean, its John Grisham!

The story is compelling for sure. Brady violations, ‘dream confessions, and some seriously sketchy ‘expert testimony’ are all found in the story of Ron Williamson. My issue with the book though was the narrative. Grisham is kind of all over the place. He starts by telling us about the murder of Debbie Carter. Its very gruesome and shocking to such a small town. Then, the narrative switches to the back story of Ron’s life. I mean, his ENTIRE life. So many details of childhood events and other tangental stories really get the book so off the rails, I was ready to give up. Then he includes other crimes and other criminals. At first, they have NO relations to the crime of the story. Eventually, you understand there is a slight connection (Ron later meets the accused in prison, an expert in one trial was also in Ron’s, etc) but all these stories do is slow the book down and muddle the waters. Grisham is so far off the story frequently you kind of forget exactly where he was in the story of Ron Williamson.

He also goes into great detail about the death penalty in Oklahoma. Again, this is interesting and does bear some importance to the story, but Grisham could have been much briefer with this. You can also tell that this was Grisham’s first non-fiction as he often seems to slip into more fiction like tales. While it isn’t poorly written, it doesn’t really fit with the narrative. I wish he would have focused more on the evidence, the cops, the appeals, and less on every minute detail of Ron’s life and the random stories of the people he meets throughout life.

The Innocent Man really does show the issues with the legal system and how easy it is to end up dying for something you are innocent of. Ron isn’t the only person’s story that will make you question the legal proceedings. Also, I was appalled at how mental health was ignored. While I think that sometimes, mental health defense is overused and not warranted, in this story, I could not ignore that Ron has a documented history of mental illness.

The narrator, Craig Wasson, did a wonderful job. He has excellent diction and read at the perfect pace.


  • POV: 3rd
  • Tears: no
  • Trope: true crime
  • Triggers: the crime of rape is described via the aftermath; the actual event is not described
  • Series/Standalone: standalone

Any other true crime books or if you enjoy John Grisham’s fiction books…then you will probably like The Innocent Man!

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About John Grisham

Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, John Grisham was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby--writing his first novel.

Born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and a homemaker, John Grisham as a child dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Realizing he didn't have the right stuff for a pro career, he shifted gears and majored in accounting at Mississippi State University. After graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation.

One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.

That might have put an end to Grishams hobby. However, he had already begun his next book, and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career. When he sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers, and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991.

The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller. Grisham's success even renewed interest in A Time to Kill, which was republished in hardcover by Doubleday and then in paperback by Dell. This time around, it was a bestseller.

Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one book a year. His other books are The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Brethren, A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, The Summons, The King of Torts, Bleachers, The Last Juror, The Broker, Playing for Pizza,The Appeal, The Associate, Ford County, The Confession, The Litigators, Calico Joe, The Racketeer, Sycamore Row, Gray Mountain, and Rogue Lawyer. All of them have become international bestsellers. In addition he has written six novels for Young Adult readers: Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, Theodore Boone: The Abduction, Theodore Boone: The Accused, Theodore Boone: The Activist, Theodore Boone: The Fugitive, and Theodore Boone: The Scandal (2016). There are currently over 300 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 29 languages. The Innocent Man (October 2006) marked his first foray into non-fiction, and Ford County (November 2009) was his first short story collection. Partners (March 2016) was his first original digital short story. Nine of his novels have been turned into films (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, A Painted House, The Runaway Jury, and Skipping Christmas), as was an original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man.

Grisham took time off from writing for several months in 1996 to return, after a five-year hiatus, to the courtroom. He was honoring a commitment made before he had retired from the law to become a full-time writer: representing the family of a railroad brakeman killed when he was pinned between two cars. Preparing his case with the same passion and dedication as his books’ protagonists, Grisham successfully argued his clients’ case, earning them a jury award of $683,500—the biggest verdict of his career.

When he’s not writing, Grisham devotes time to charitable causes, including most recently his Rebuild The Coast Fund, which raised 8.8 million dollars for Gulf Coast relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He also keeps up with his greatest passion: baseball. The man who dreamed of being a professional baseball player now serves as the local Little League commissioner. The six ballfields he built on his property have played host to over 350 kids on 26 Little League teams.

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