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 As, 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 habitsdrinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty 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.
With no physical evidence, the prosecutions case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.
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.
Judged against Grisham's fictional works, The Innocent Man compares well, his prose style is tight and fast-paced, the extremely large cast of characters are sketched succinctly and courtroom legalities are explained in a style simple enough for the layman to follow, and we're left in little doubt about who are the good guys and who are the bad .... However, Grisham's black and white approach to the real world which, unlike fiction, is always drawn in shades of gray, is the weakness of The Innocent Man when judged as a work of nonfiction. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
The Wall Street Journal - Joshua Marquis
The one-sidedness of The Innocent Man is a shame, for two reasons. First, because it feeds the popular perception -- nurtured by Hollywood and the news media -- that death rows are teeming with wrongfully convicted men who just await DNA testing to set them free. Second, by skewing his tale, Mr. Grisham missed an opportunity to tell a well-rounded and perhaps more interesting story than the one he delivers.
New York Times - Edward Lewine
[A]fter reading The Innocent Man, you do wish Grisham had used some of his novelist’s technique to marshal the facts at his disposal.
Instead, he never gets the plot up to a decent boil.
The New York Times - Janet Maslin The Innocent Man is less spectacular than sturdy. It is a reminder not only of how propulsively Mr. Grisham’s fiction is constructed but of how difficult it is to make messy reality behave in clear, streamlined fashion.
The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley The Innocent Man is a useful companion to Ultimate Punishment (2003), the argument against the death penalty by that other lawyer who writes skillful fiction, Scott Turow. Like Turow, Grisham realizes that the most powerful argument against the death penalty is that it kills the innocent as well as the guilty, a case that he makes simply by telling Williamson and Fritz's story. His prose here isn't as good as it is in his novels…but his reasoning is sound and his passion is contagious.
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
Compared with other works in its genre, The Innocent Man is less spectacular than sturdy. It is a reminder not only of how propulsively Mr. Grisham's fiction is constructed but of how difficult it is to make messy reality behave in clear, streamlined fashion.
The Onion - Noel Murray
Frankly, Grisham overdoes it a little. He states and re-states each malfeasance, and writes in exhausting detail about Williamson's untreated mental illness. But when Grisham gets into what happened to Williamson and company during their prison stay, The Innocent Man finds its purpose.
Boston Globe - Chuck Leddy
In his first foray into nonfiction, novelist John Grisham has crafted a legal thriller every bit as suspenseful and fast-paced as his best - selling fiction.
A gritty, harrowing true-crime story.
New York Daily News
Grisham is at his succinct, and often sardonic, best.
Grisham has written both an American tragedy and his strongest legal thriller yet, all the more gripping because it happens to be true.
Daily Telegraph - Raymond Seitz
Grisham lets this gripping story tell itself. Without directly attacking capital punishment, he demonstrates the gross fallibilities of the system, exposing here not merely a 'miscarriage of justice' but its utter collapse.
Sydney Morning Herald - Bruce Elder
Contrary to the opinion of many critics, Grisham is a great storyteller and a fine, no-nonsense writer. He has a well-honed attention to detail. He doesn't degenerate into cliches and he has a natural sense of dramatic structure that ensures the book has a compelling forward momentum.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Concerned Citizen Eye Opener First, I would like to say that after reading all of the other comments made here, it appears that everyone seemed to miss the the point that this was not a book of fiction a la Mr. Grishman's other "tales". This is a true story of... Read More
Rated of 5
by Bill Better than fiction I just finished "The Innocent Man" yesterday. I was completely absorbed by the story from beginning to end. I've only read a few Grisham books and this was my favorite. I tend to prefer modern stories when they are true, but I'm a big fan of the... Read More
Rated of 5
by Sunshine honest Usually I am a big fan of John Grisham, I have read every book he has ever written and enjoyed every single one. I could hardly wait until this book came out in paperback so I could read it as well. What a disappointment - it is so boring and... Read More
Rated of 5
by SharonA An Innocent Man Dear Mr. Grisham,
I patiently wait for your books to come out on paperback before I buy and then devour! I love them all except for this one. I didn't realize it was your first non-fiction. It was way too long. I ended up skimming through when I... Read More
Rated of 5
by Cally The Innocent Man I have read many of John Grisham's books, and I typically enjoy them very much--they are the type of books that I don't want to put down! However, I did not feel this way about The Innocent Man; it's the first John Grisham book that I did not... Read More
Rated of 5
by Paulette First Rate Another well-written book from Grisham.
I loved the way Grisham put together voluminous facts and made it into one coherent and moving tale.
I was appalled by the fact that "competent" people can overlook so many important things that even... Read More
Ada, Oklahoma local boy
Ron Williamson achieved hero status when drafted by baseball's Oakland
Athletics in 1971, but within a couple of seasons his baseball dreams had been
dashed and he took to drowning his sorrows in alcohol. In 1978, having
twice been charged with rape and found not guilty, and having been left by his
wife and having been in and out of mental institutions, he returned to Ada to
live with his mother, where he became known around town as a drifter. One
of his few friends was
Dennis Fritz, a high school science teacher, who was raising his 8-year-old
daughter, Elizabeth, whose mother had been murdered by a deranged neighbor six
In 1982, cocktail waitress Debbie Sue Carter was found raped and murdered
in her Ada apartment, the crime scene strewn with forensic evidence.
Although there was no evidence connecting Williamson to Carter, and despite
strong evidence pointing to another man who was the last to be seen with Carter,
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