Pete Banning was Clanton's favourite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist Church. Then one cool October morning in 1946. he rose early, drove into town, walked into the church, and calmly shot and killed the Reverend Dexter Bell.
As if the murder wasn't shocking enough, it was even more baffling that Pete's only statement about it - to the sheriff, to his defense attorney, to the judge, to his family and friends, and to the people of Clanton - was 'I have nothing to say'.
Reviewed on 23rd January 2019
2018’s John Grisham novel is an interesting blend of his earlier and later styles. We start out with the traditional courtroom drama setup - we find out what happened, who’s who, what the lawyers are up to, and end up in court. But this book also gives us something else - a lot more back story than I was expecting, and a lot more forestory (if that can be a thing).
It’s fascinating to see a bit more of the story than just the court case - and to dig in and try to understand things in a bit more detail. That said, there’s a large chunk of the novel that feels a bit like ‘John Grisham was learning recently about this historical event and now wants to tell you about it’, and it’s very dark and very grim - possibly the hardest thing to read that he’s written, which is quite a thing for an author whose previous works have included executions.
In the end, I don’t think I really liked this story - it’s too unpleasant in the choice of subject matter to be entertaining, and turned into more of a history lesson than a story. I don’t think I can bring myself to recommend it because of this.