The Confession by John Grisham

April 9, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of his crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed.

Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess.

But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • There were some interesting details about how Death Row works and what the final few days of an inmate’s life are like. Yes, I already knew some things from movies or television, but it was nice to get a more in-depth look here.


  • The narrative felt far too disjointed for my tastes. I’m not sure why Grisham didn’t pick a lead protagonist and stick with that person throughout. Keith was annoying, as was Robbie Flak. Keith was just so damn indecisive that he bothered me whenever he was front and center in the story. Robbie was so self-righteous that he came off as a blustering jerk. He obviously had a point, but something was still off about him. Maybe it was the fact that we didn’t learn anything about the original trial until after Travis came forward. Maybe if the story had been told in a more linear fashion, the reader could have worked up some sympathy for the main players. As it was, I just couldn’t wait for their preaching to be over with.
  • What was the friggin’ point of having Travis fake the malignancy of his brain tumor??? Why would he come forward at all if he wasn’t actually dying? This made zero sense to me. He wasn’t in line for a big payday and was facing certain jail time if he hadn’t escaped. I just didn’t understand why Grisham had to go and make the tumor non-malignant. Just so Travis could attempt that last kidnap/rape at the end? Ugh, it’s not as though the reader doubted his guilt by that point.
  • I hated how everyone involved with the case was painted with such broad strokes. Of course the prosecutor and judge were bad seeds, and the cops who interrogated Donté were “bullies”. Of course the governor was described as a friggin’ cowboy who loved to put people to death. How nice to be able to live in a world with no gray areas.
  • The political grandstanding about the death penalty got real old real fast. I realize this was Grisham’s book and he could do whatever he wanted, but come on, a work of fiction is supposed to be entertaining, right? And what point was he trying to make, exactly? Of course it’s easy to argue against the death penalty when it’s applied to an innocent man, like in this book. How about making Donté actually guilty and then try stirring the pot. That would be a more worthwhile use of the pages, don’t you think? WhoTF wouldn’t feel sympathy for an innocent man???
  • I absolutely loathed Grisham’s characterization of Nicole Yarber’s mother. He depicted her as a limelight-hogging, money-grubbing bitch who did Donté wrong. I didn’t think this was fair at all. After all, the mother was just going by what the police and the jury told her: Donté was guilty of killing her daughter. How else was she supposed to feel towards him?
  • The book read like a nonfiction work at times, with Grisham “reporting” about events rather than telling a story. In that regard it reminded me a lot of the author’s previous death penalty book The Innocent Man (which really was nonfiction). Then the racial tension stuff reminded me of A Time to Kill, so the combination here made me feel that the whole thing was a long, boring rehash.
  • Speaking of long and boring, the book was just that. It went on far too long and failed to hold my interest past the finding of Nicole’s body.


I usually like John Grisham’s books, but The Confession is one that didn’t even come close to being entertaining. The characters were irritating, many of the plot points and “twists” were ridiculous, the preaching was tiresome, and the story went on far too long. Because of these deficiencies (and more) I give the book 1 star out of 5.

3 Responses to “The Confession by John Grisham”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with several of your points — especially the one about Boyette. I saw that one coming after he escaped the hospital and left his cane. How could one not? It was such an amateurish way of setting-up the twist. And I immediately felt so disappointed and said to myself, “No f-ing way. I just read 400 pages to have it end with a ridiculously unbelievable turn?” As you said, why would Boyette confess if he wasn’t terminal? With this unnecessary twist, Grisham completely dissolved any glue that may have held-together the limp plot in the first place.

  2. I came across this entry looking for an explanation for Boyette’s confession. It made absolutely no sense once Grisham took away his terminal diagnosis. A real plot twist would have replaced his terminal illness with another, previously unseen, motivation. But replacing it with nothing just unraveled the plot he’d spent the previous few hundred pages establishing. So sloppy! The reader’s just left hanging.
    I agree that the excessive preaching and the fact-reporting style of spinning out the subsequent events were tiresome.

  3. I too came across this site googling for an explanation as to why Travis would have confessed if he knew he wasn’t terminal. Made no sense to me once it surfaced.

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