The Last Juror
First edition cover
|Genre||Legal thriller novel|
|Media type||Hardcover, Paperback|
The story is set in the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi from 1970 to 1979. Clanton is also the venue for John Grisham's first novel A Time to Kill which was published in 1989. Some of the characters appear in both novels with the same occupation and characteristics. Although A Time to Kill was published 15 years before The Last Juror, it took place in 1985 (on the first page of Chapter 3, it notes the date as Wednesday, May 15), which is a year after Grisham formed the idea for A Time to Kill, his first novel, and began writing it. Therefore the characters who appear in both novels, such as Lucien Wilbanks and Harry Rex Vonner, have matured in A Time to Kill. Harry Rex Vonner also appears in the novel The Summons, published in 2002, as an adviser of the protagonist Ray Atlee.
The novel is divided into three parts of approximately equal length. The first covers the trial of Danny Padgitt, the second focuses on Willie adjusting to life in Clanton, and the third includes the main events, the murder of the jurors.
In 1970, the first person narrator, a 23-year-old college dropout by the name of Willie Traynor, comes to Clanton, Mississippi for an internship at the local newspaper, The Ford County Times. However the editor, Wilson Caudle, drives the newspaper into bankruptcy through years of mismanagement. Willie decides to buy the paper spontaneously for $50,000, using money borrowed from his wealthy grandmother, and becomes the editor and owner of The Times. Months later, a member of the notorious Padgitt family brutally rapes and kills a young widow, Rhoda Kassellaw. The murderer, Danny Padgitt, is put on trial. Before being found guilty, Padgitt threatens to kill each of the jury members, should they convict him. Although they find him guilty, the jury cannot decide whether to send him to life in prison or to Death Row, so Padgitt is sentenced to life in prison at the Mississippi State Penitentiary.
After nine years in prison, Danny Padgitt is paroled and returns to Clanton. Immediately, two jury members are killed and one is nearly killed by a bomb. Jury member and close friend of Willie, Callie Ruffin, reveals that the recent victims were the jurors who were against sentencing Danny to Death Row. Callie Ruffin is black, and was the first black on a jury trying a white criminal in Ford County. With her husband, she has a family of highly accomplished adult children, who live outside of Mississippi. Convinced that Danny is exacting his revenge, as promised, the judge of Clanton issues an arrest for Danny Padgitt. At Padgitt's bail hearing, the former lover of Rhoda Kassellaw, Hank Hooten, having hidden in the crawl space above the courtroom, guns down and kills the suspect. He then barricades himself in the court house tower and, after a short standoff that mainly destroys a few windows, commits suicide. Willie later discovers that Hooten was a schizophrenic and would often hear the voices of the victim's children in his head, exhorting him to murder Danny and the three jurors who voted against the death penalty. After nine years of ownership, Willie sells The Ford County Times for $1.5 million. Soon after, Callie Ruffin dies of a heart attack, and the book ends with Willie writing her obituary.
Characters in The Last Juror
- Joyner William "Willie" Traynor - the protagonist and editor of the local newspaper, The Times.
- Calia "Miss Callie" Harris Ruffin - a black woman with eight children, seven of whom have Ph.Ds. She is selected for jury duty at the Padgitt trial.
- Baggy Suggs - an alcoholic reporter for The Times.
- Wiley Meek - photographer for The Times.
- Danny Padgitt - a member of the notorious Padgitt family. He rapes and murders Rhoda Kassellaw but is given parole after only nine years in prison.
- Lucien Wilbanks - defense lawyer for Danny Padgitt.
- Harry Rex Vonner - a lawyer who befriends Willie, helping him with various legal and moral issues throughout the novel.
- Sam Ruffin - eighth child of Calia Ruffin. He had an affair with a married white woman and is afraid to return to Clanton.
- Rhoda Kassellaw - the victim of Danny Padgitt.
- Judge Loopus - the judge at the Padgitt trial.
- Ernie Gaddis - prosecution lawyer at the Padgitt trial
- Hank Hooten - another lawyer at the Padgitt trial. He is rumoured to have had a relationship with Rhoda Kassellaw before her death. He later goes insane, killing two jurors and Danny Padgitt.