Genres: True Crime
Narrator: Craig Wasson
#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
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!