Until two years ago, I had never read a Grisham novel. I obviously knew of his work through the various film adaptations of his books, films that I mostly enjoyed. I decided that I would read his books in order, since I have been told on more than one occasion that his earlier books are better than his later ones. While I liked A Time to Kill, I thought that the ending was a little lacking. I felt the same way about The Firm. I was beginning to wonder if Grisham was one of those writers who have trouble concluding their stories. The Pelican Brief and The Client were both improvements. Both were taut thrillers that came to a satisfying close.
Brent (a fellow 50 Booker) had recommended The Chamber to me a couple of times, telling me that it is one of his favorite Grisham novels, right up there with The Rainmaker – incidentally, that is the next of Grisham’s novels. The Chamber marked a slight departure from Grisham’s previous works. It was much slower paced, both the story and characters took a while to develop. But, any hack can write quick, spastic action (see Dan Brown’s bibliography). It is much more difficult to create a slow-moving story that is interesting and entertaining for the reader. With The Chamber, Grisham does exactly that.
The storyline of the book is rather simple. Sam Cayhall is on death row in Mississippi for a crime that he committed when he was much younger and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He is in his sixties and a month away from the gas chamber, when his lawyer grandson – who had not previously met him – arrives to take up his case. Grisham describes the legal battles that take place in the ensuing weeks. Throughout this time, Adam Hall gets a lesson in his extended family history, often learning things that he wished he hadn’t. As with his two previous books, Grisham ends The Chamber well.
Although it is just a novel, I don’t know how someone could read this book and not give some serious thought to the death penalty.