3.5 star, adult

Review: The Guardians by John Grisham

In the small north Florida town of Seabrook, a young lawyer named Keith Russo was shot dead at his desk as he worked late one night. The killer left no clues behind. There were no witnesses, no real suspects, no one with a motive. The police soon settled on Quincy Miller, a young black man who was once a client of Russo’s.

Quincy was framed, convicted, and sent to prison for life. For twenty-two years he languished in prison with no lawyer, no advocate on the outside. Then he wrote a letter to Guardian Ministries, a small innocence group founded by a lawyer/minister named Cullen Post.

Guardian handles only a few innocence cases at a time, and Post is its only investigator. He travels the South fighting wrongful convictions and taking cases no one else will touch. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for. Powerful, ruthless people murdered Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy exonerated.

They killed one lawyer twenty-two years ago, and they will kill another one without a second thought.

So I was scrolling through some suggested books, and found myself looking for something different from my usual suspects (ha), but not too different. This is actually my first time reading one of John Grisham’s works, what are more commonly referred to as “legal thrillers”. Although I was slow to warm up to it, I actually found the overall quite pleasurable, read on to find out why!

The Guardians follows a peculiar protagonist (though based on a true hero!), who is both ordained as a priest as well as a trained lawyer. With a peculiar name too, Post Cullen, his main goal is to live off barely any money, in order to use all possible resources to help exonerate those who have been wrongfully imprisoned. In this book, he tackles a 22 year old case of a wrongful murder conviction, convinced that his client was framed. The story follows Post’s journey as he travels around looking for old clues and witnesses that can help save his client from death row.

From the very first chapter the tone is immediately set: a man eating his last supper before execution. The tension only grows from here, as more pieces of the puzzle are put together, and more secrets of the past are slowly unveiled. In terms of flow, there are many chapters, and so a lot of little places to stop and absorb the information. I was initially not used to this, so it took me a while to find my groove and just read on. Each chapter break often skips a little bit, or introduces a new piece of evidence or venue, which can be disorienting. However, overall the story is well-crafted, and it was easy enough to follow along the time or place changes.

Personally, I felt like there was a couple of commentary here and there embedded into the novel which I found slightly extraneous or out of place. But in a way, it may have been included to set the atmosphere – but this may just be a stylistic choice that I am not too familiar with. Either way, besides that, I felt like it was well-researched and I was really drawn into the story. It was really hard to read about the injustices of the legal system, yet I know its cases to be all to real, and not too far from fiction. This definitely added a huge suspense, emotional and “scary” element to the novel, which I did enjoy.

Overall, I feel like I wasn’t as on the edge of my seat as I would be for like the classic thriller novel. However, it was more of a different kind of foreboding, knowing that someone innocent could be executed for someone else’s crime, and the dangers of uncovering what people have so desperately tried to cover in the past. Even if you have an idea who is behind it all, obtaining the proof also becomes another battle. The thriller part of this novel really lives up to its name of being a legal thriller – the legalities is where all the suspense happens. Can Post manage to free his client in time by abiding with the law, when the law is what locked his client up in the first place?!

Overall Recommendations

The Guardians follows Post Cullen, a minister and a lawyer, who takes on the task of exonerating innocent individuals from the death row pro bono. Using all his wits and wiles, he must extract information long buried to save his client, Quincy Miller, from certain death for a murder that happened 22 years ago. Well-researched, and displaying the faults and intricacies of the legal system, Grisham beautifully crafts a legal thriller – a suspenseful tale of a lawyer desperately trying to uncover the truth to save his client’s life. It’s even based on a true story, or at least a true character (“the exonerator”), which makes this book have even more meaning and implications for what it means to be a victim of the law.


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