In the year 1970, The Ford County Times, a newspaper serving the small town of Clanton, Mississippi, goes bankrupt. In a daring move, rookie reporter Willie Traynor buys it. Traynor, a twenty-three-year-old college dropout from the North, always had lazy dreams of striking it rich but little knowledge of achieving it, until his reckless buy transforms him from an indifferent pencil-pusher to a zealous small-town newspaper editor. Although he faces some tough times, with time and enthusiasm, the young editor and his newspaper both progress and slowly prosper.
During this time comes the case of the brutal rape and murder of a young widow, which causes a furor in Clanton and goes on to torture the town for almost the next decade. Danny Padgitt, the only suspect, belongs to a rich and notorious clan of bootleggers and the prevalent system of corruption and coercion makes the town fear an acquittal. But thanks partly to Traynorís scathing and stirring editorials and despite death threats, Padgitt is found guilty although not given the death penalty. When heís paroled nine years later and the killing of the jurors begins, Clanton once again finds itself in the grip of panic and terror.
If readers pick up this book expecting to read another high-tension legal thriller from John Grisham, as is implied by the title, theyíre going to be somewhat disappointed. While the book does hinge upon a pivotal legal case, it doesnít focus primarily on it. This doesnít mean that the book is not exciting. But neither is it as remarkable as readers have come to expect a Grisham book to be. This is more a story about a town called Clanton, its newspaper and the editor, Willie Traynor. Grisham shows how, when compared to the rest of America, change is always slow to come to a Southern town in matters like the integration of blacks into society and unified school systems. Itís more a study in the growth of character of Traynor, who goes from an ignorant reporter to an enthusiastic editor. Racism, corruption, double standards, and religious zealotry are all realistically portrayed in an accurately-captured small town atmosphere. With no apparent aim, the story meanders its way to an emotional but insipid end.
To sum up, this is yet another book in which Grisham continues to experiment with his writing genre and abilities. While enjoyable, the story frankly isnít that impressive.