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The Innocent Man - John Grisham

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Genre: Biography / Author: John Grisham / Hardcover / 368 Pages / Book is published 2006-10-10 by Century

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    7 Reviews
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      03.02.2013 10:40
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      Grisham's first foray into non-fiction is a partial success

      John Grisham is one of those authors who, although I enjoy their work, I don't tend to spend money on it. Much like James Patterson, he work is enjoyable and readable enough, but it doesn't have a great deal of impact that would make it worth having the book around to re-read. He's the sort of author I can understand selling well at airports and train stations, as it's the perfect way to while away a long journey with little else to do but stare out of a window.

      ''The Innocent Man'' is touted as Grisham's first work of non-fiction, as opposed to his usual legal thriller, which could make it a little different, although it does share some common aspects with his normal work. The innocent man of the title is Ron Williamson, a former college baseball star from small town Oklahoma who didn't quite make it in the world of professional baseball thanks to injuries and a fondness for things that didn't keep him in the best physical shape.

      Giving up on his dreams of becoming a sports star, he returned home as a drifter, never settling and never quite able to let go of his glory days and the unfulfilled potential he had. A few years after his return, a young waitress is brutally murdered and, a few years later, another young girl goes missing. The local police were unable to solve either case, but getting desperate for a conviction, they relied on questionable forensic evidence and paid for testimonies and so Ron Williamson ended up on Death Row.

      The scope of the novel is unusual for Grisham as much of it is biographical, covering Williamson's early life and full details of the crime, rather than just the court room legal wrangling. This means we get a glimpse into Williamson's early life, from his early days as a slightly spoiled and demanding child, through his attempts to become a professional baseball player, to his life afterwards and his time on Death Row. In many Grisham novels, the focus is on the one character only for the scope of the story and this put a little more meat onto the bones of the story than I'm used to getting from Grisham.

      On the down side, on occasion it does show that this approach isn't a common one for Grisham. Williamson suffered from mental illness throughout much of his life and it appears he was tormented by the prison guards in local prison and on Death Row and also struggled to live a normal life once his baseball career was over. Unfortunately, most of this was reported dispassionately and gave no real insight into how Williamson was progressing emotionally. The way it was reported gave evidence he was suffering and in decline, but I never really felt all that much empathy with him, as the writing wasn't emotional enough to draw me in that way.

      Whilst the almost journalistic tone of the novel failed on that level, it worked very well when we came to Grisham's real strength, that of the legal process. It is during these sections that the book goes into the kind of detail you expect from a John Grisham novel, as both his interests and experience seem to lead him into every aspect of the legal process, from evidence collection to witness coaching and fact twisting. The story of Williamson's life may have been skipped over fairly quickly, but the story of the court cases that changed his life were presented in minute detail.

      However, the maintaining of a single writing style made the book as a whole quite readable. Regardless of whether Grisham was looking at Williamson's life on the baseball field or examining the paltry evidence the prosecution had, he writes in a simple language that encourages the reader to keep ploughing on and keeps the pages turning quite rapidly. I found that even without ever becoming involved in the story on an emotional level, the style of writing enabled me to keep reading and, even though this is longer than a normal Grisham novel, I reached the end fairly quickly.

      This is a book that needs to be read with a pinch of salt. History tends to be written by the winners and that is certainly the case here. Although some of his past misdemeanours are touched upon, Williamson is presented as someone who has done very little wrong through his life and the prosecution and local police come across as a group as being at worst corrupt and at best incompetent. To be fair, this matches Grisham's usual style, where he only follows one side of the story, but in a work of non-fiction, I feel we're entitled to a more balanced view. The truth may well be that Williamson was wrongly convicted, but to paint an entire police and District Attorney's department in the light they were to hammer this point home left me feeling slightly uncomfortable.

      If you're normally a fan of courtroom based dramas and John Grisham's work in particular, this is well worth reading for something slightly different from the norm. However, for those used to better writing than Grisham can produce, you may find that a story as high on some detail, but lacking in emotion and balance as this one leaves a little to be desired. However, if you're off on a long journey and need something to occupy your time, there is certainly worse to be had, especially as this can be found for as little as a penny for a used copy from eBay or the Amazon Marketplace.

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      21.01.2010 14:55
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      An absolute must read.

      This is the second book I've finished with my newly discovered love of reading.

      This book is about Ron Williamson: born in 1953 from the small town of Ada, Pontotoc County, Oklahoma. Ron is one of the two men jointly convicted for the rape and murder of 21 year old Debra Sue Carter. The story focuses on Ron as he was seen as the lead antagonist in this horrific crime and the one who received the death penalty. His partner in crime, Dennis Fritz, was alternatively sentenced to life imprisonment. This is about the life story and wrongful conviction of Ron.

      This is, as you would expect from Grisham, extremely well written. It starts as just a story but the more you read the more you become emotionally invested in the characters - especially Ron and his tragic life. Yet another page turner that keeps you gripped simply because you want to learn more about Ron's situation, about being on death row and what impact this has on him. This book is also very informative as it gives you an insight into the American (in)justice system.

      As a story this would be good but what really sets this apart and makes it more fascinating to read is that this is a true story that Grisham could be more accurately described as reporting rather than creating. He wrote this book with the co-operation of Ron's family and on reading it is evident how thoroughly researched and complied this is.

      I would recommend this book to everybody but I would especially promote this to conservative minded people like myself who support the death penalty. This book has genuinely made me consider my opinion of Capital punishment and it has also given me a greater insight and compassion for mental illness.

      I defy anybody not to be drawn in and moved by this powerful story.

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      24.09.2009 20:46
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      A brilliant read that you won't want to put down

      I was given this book as people know that I'm a John Grisham fan and I started reading it before realising that it was a true story, as the plot so easily could be a work of the law court fiction that Grisham so greatly favours.

      The book starts by describing the early life of Ron Williamson, who dreams of being a professional baseball player. Once he gets into the adult baseball games however, his life takes a downturn and he drops into drink and drugs, which only makes his slight mental instability worse.

      The worst downturn by far is when he, along with a friend, is arrested for the murder of a girl in his hometown. The local police are so convinced that they are guilty that they fabricate evidence to ensure that the two men are convicted of murder, resulting in Ronnie being sentenced to death.

      This is the story of what happens once he's sent to death row for the crime of murder. It details the many years of appeals and, poignantly, the way that prison affects Ron's health, both mental and physical.

      As previously mentioned, this could so easily have been a story straight from Grisham's mind - it's that hard to believe that this sort of thing can happen.

      It's a very good read (I found it hard to put down) and you really feel for the characters. Nicely done, Grisham, a true masterpiece.

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        16.09.2009 09:44
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        Good read, knowing it is based on fact makes it quite disturbing.

        As a great fan of John Grisham books, I got this as a present without realising that it was non-fiction. Following the story of Ron Williamson, who failed to make the grade at baseball due to an injury, it details how he fell to the lowest of lows. Following a local murder, he is accused by the police, who are so certain that he did it, they ignore/make up evidence to show that he did it. The book delves into the police investigation, the trial and Ron's life before during and after all this happens. After his story is taken up by a team of lawyers looking into mis-carriages of justice. I don't think it would give the ending away to say that they succeeded to free him, after uncovering the incompetence of the police investigation and justice system, but only after he had spent many years on death row, .
        Overall a good read, if not what you would expect from one of John Grisham's novels. Certainly an eye-opener about the US justice system.

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          31.01.2009 13:41
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          the best read of your life

          This book is one of the best books i have read ever in my life.
          I had never read a John Grisham book before and got this give to me by a friend. I can tell you she brought it from Amazon -Hardback at £18.99.

          This book tells the tale of Ronald Williamson, from Ada, Oklahoma in the US. Ron grew up as a star baseball player, going from strength to strength until he hurts his elbow swinging a bat while in the reserves for the Yankees.

          Ron then falls into a deep depression after quiting his baseball career. His 2 sisters try to help him, as he goes out drinking and getting into trouble.

          Years go by and one day he gets accused for kiling and raping a girl called Debbie Carter after a local felon says he saw Ron with the girl on the night she got murdered.

          A series of bungling police reports and so called 'confessions' lead to Ron being sent to Death Row.

          The story goes on to tell his battle... i dont want to tell you the ending as it will put hope in your heart and tears in your eyes.

          Buy this book x

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            09.01.2008 18:25
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            A successful first work of non-fiction from the legal eagle

            John Grisham's first foray into non-fiction is, by and large surprisingly successful. The man best known for legal pot-boilers featuring unlikely monikered characters instead turns his attention to the real-life case of Ronnie Williamson, a man who spent 11 years on Death Row for a crime he did not commit.

            Grisham's approach to the tale is a curious one and it's fair to say that this is a book of two halves - one good, one not quite so good. Initially, Grisham seems to struggle to adapt to the rigours of non-fiction writing. Shorn of his normal way of presenting just enough information to drive the plot along, he seems to struggle under the sheer weight of the information he has to convey. He doggedly and determinedly produces volumes and volumes of facts and figures, all designed to help us better understand the case, but at times, he's in serious danger of putting his readers off.

            There can be little doubt that Grisham has done a phenomenal amount of research for this book, and got first hand accounts from as many different people as he could track down and were willing to talk to him. Sometimes, this is part of the problem: he tries to present too much information; more than is strictly necessary. In the wealth of facts, information and speculation, Grisham loses his natural story-telling ability and the pace and interest levels flag quite considerably. At times, it's almost as though Grisham is thinking "I've done all this research and found out all this information, so I'm going to use it, whether you like it or not."

            In particular, the first part of the book, which concentrates on Ron Williamson's childhood, his failed baseball career and his mental decline is tough going. There's no doubt it's useful background information, and helps understand what kind of a person Williamson was, but it could, perhaps have been truncated. Grisham deserves credit for not trying to hide the more unsavoury aspects of Williamson's character, portraying him as a charismatic, but often selfish person, but he could have done so in half the time. Grisham's obsession with Williamson's aborted baseball career, in particular, will be of little interest to anyone who does not follow the sport. You quickly find yourself drowning in talk of innings, averages and so on. Although the book always bore the basis of an interesting premise, there were times early on when it was a chore to keep reading.

            Then, after around 250 pages, Grisham seems to find his stride. The book becomes a fascinating page-turner, a story as interesting and exciting as any of the plots he has dreamt up in the past. Indeed, the level of interest is greater, because it's actually true. As the story unfolds, you stand amazed, disgusted and horrified at the incompetence, intransigence and arrogance that almost allowed an innocent man to die.

            Once the book begins to describe the trial, Grisham immediately seems to feel more at home, back on the familiar soil where his most successful books have been based. From this point on, he does what he does best, spinning a gripping yarn which, even though we already know the outcome, nevertheless manages to generate a huge range of emotions. From being in severe danger of boring the reader to death, the book suddenly turns and becomes some of the most fascinating and gripping writing Grisham has ever produced. Complex information (much of a legal nature) is presented in huge amounts, yet always in a readable way, which never leaves the reader floundering in the way the earlier sections did. The last 300 pages fly by and you devour them, anxious to find out how the mess resolved itself and what the fates of the main "characters" were.

            What surprised me most was the amount of emotion Grisham manages to wring from the reader: anger, incredulity, horror, bitterness, sadness and even the occasional piece of humour. Grisham is not exactly renowned for his well developed characters or his evocative prose, but he's a revelation here, investing his book with levels of emotion I would never have thought him capable of. Best of all, the level of emotion always feels genuine and only rarely sensationalist. Grisham has clearly found a subject he feels passionately about and it brings out the best in him, Even the most hard-hearted person is likely to have a tear in their eye or a lump in their throat by the time they close the book for the last time.

            It's possible to argue that Grisham concentrates so much on Williamson that the murder victim, in particular, gets pushed into the background. In the rush of sympathy for Williamson, it's easy to forget the devastating impact the events had on her family. Similarly, sometimes Grisham's writing is a little over-simplistic (a criticism often levelled at his fiction). With the exception of Williamson, "characters" are often boiled down to simple stereotypes and the complexities which make up real human beings forgotten. The cops who conduct the case against Williamson, the prosecutor who sends him to jail, the judges who ignore his health problems are all the villains of the piece. Whilst huge, unacceptable errors were, undoubtedly made, it would have made for a far more balanced read had Grisham accepted that these people were trying to do a difficult job under difficult circumstances. This doesn't excuse their actions, but it does make them more human and more understandable.

            The amount of research Grisham has done is clearly huge. BUT (and it's a big but), it's also very one-sided. Starting with the conclusion that Williamson was innocent he works backwards, condemning the authorities for even suspecting him. This is not a fair and even-handed book. The other parties are given little opportunity to put across their side of the story or explain their actions and are simply condemned out of hand. Indeed, since publication, a number have offered firm rebuttals to Grisham's claims. This tendency to ignore or dismiss alternative viewpoints somewhat undermines the authoritative tone Grisham is striving for.

            I've read a lot of comments which compare this work to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. This is a lot of marketing hyperbole. Readable and exciting though it is, Capote's ground-breaking work is far more interesting on many more levels than the simple miscarriage of justice Grisham presents. On the other hand, he deserves credit for trying to branch out and do something new. After all, he knows if he writes his shopping list in novel form, it will appear on the best-seller list. By tackling a new discipline, Grisham seems to reinvigorate himself and return to the sort of writing which made him successful in the first place. After a somewhat shaky start, Grisham delivers a tale that packs a punch and will keep you gripped right to the end.

            Basic Information
            -----------------------
            The Innocent Man
            John Grisham
            Arrow Books, 2007
            ISBN: 978-0099493570 (paperback)

            Available new from Amazon for £3.99 or used from £1.20

            © Copyright SWSt 2008

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              19.05.2007 18:51
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              I can see Grisham writing further non fiction books

              This is John Grisham's first attempt at a non fiction book.

              I have long been a Grisham fan and in the early days used to positively drool awaiting the next book. However, I began to lose interest after A Painted House and since The King of Torts, whilst passable, I do not think any of his books have been anything special. In fact the last 4/5 novels merge into one and I cannot remember individual story lines. You cannot say that about The Firm or A Time To Kill.

              It was with a little bit of uncertainty, therefore, that I recently bought his latest book, The Innocent Man. I was intrigued about him writing a non fiction book and the write up also captured my imagination (taken from Amazon):

              "If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you".

              So I thought, why not try it?

              Well, I must say that I was absolutely hypnotized and read this book in one sitting. I have no idea how long it took and have no concept of time as I was captivated with the book.

              In 1971, Ron Williamson, local football star, was the first player chosen from the state of Oklahoma for the major league draft. After injuries, alcohol, women and drugs within 6 years he was back in his home town a broken man with mental health problems that went untreated.

              In 1982 a local girl was found raped & murdered and the case remained unsolved for five years until in 1987, Ron and his friend Dennis Fritz were arrested and found guilty despite the absence of any phyisical evidence. With the help of jailhouse snitches and unproven science the two were found guilty and Dennis sentenced to life and Ron was sent to Death Row.

              This is an incredible true story and a superb read which delves into the life of Ron Williamson (and his devoted sister who claimed his innocence from the start). It explores the background and the court case and exposes holes in the prosecution case (albeit the author did not himself identify these flaws which were uncovered years before - he just writes about them)

              I do remember, however, going through a whole range of emotions the most common of which was frustration. Not with the book itself but thinking "how can this happen?".

              If this was a book of fiction written by Grisham then I would have thought he had lost the plot, that he had writer's block and was struggling to find a realistic storyline - I had to keep reminding myself it was a true story (but won't spoil the storyline for anyone!!)

              I can certainly seeing him writing further true crime books in the future.

              Can be bought (Hardback) for under a tenner at Amazon.


              Hardcover: 368 pages
              Publisher: Century (10 Oct 2006)
              Language English
              ISBN-10: 1844137902
              ISBN-13: 978-1844137909
              Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 3.6 cm

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            • Product Details

              John Grisham's first work of non-fiction, an exploration of small town justice gone terribly awry, in his most extraordinary legal thriller yet. In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A's, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory. Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits - drinking, drugs and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept 20 hours a day on her sofa. In 1982, a 21 year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.