John Grisham Synopsis
In 1970, small town newspaper The Clanton Times went belly up. With financial assistance from a rich relative, it's purchased by 23-year-old Willie Traynor, formerly the paper's cub reporter. Soon afterward, his new business receives the readership boost it needs thanks to his editorial efforts and coverage of a particularly brutal rape and murder committed by the scion of the town's reclusive bootlegger family. Rather than shy from reporting on the subsequent open-and-shut trial (those who oppose the Padgitt family tend to turn up dead in the area's swampland), Traynor launches a crusade to ensure the unrepentant murderer is brought to justice. When a guilty verdict is returned, the town is relieved to find the Padgitt family's grip on the town did not sway the jury, though Danny Padgitt is sentenced to life in prison rather than death. But, when Padgitt is released after serving less than a decade in jail and members of the jury are murdered, Clanton once again finds itself at the mercy of its renegade family.

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In 1970, one of Mississippi's more colorful weekly newspapers, The Ford County Times, goes bankrupt. To the surprise and dismay of many, ownership is assumed by a 23 year-old college dropout named Willie Traynor, who figures he can make a bundle in publishing. Traynor takes the paper from being a rinky-dink small town paper specializing in massive obituaries - a foible of the previous owner - to being an honest-to-goodness newspaper with liberal leanings. Traynor finds himself spearheading integration in particular by first publishing the obituaries of blacks along with whites, then by spotlighting one of Ford County's finest citizens: an old black woman named Callie Ruffin who has several children, all of whom but one went one to earn Ph.D's. Traynor becomes a close friend of Callie, and soon he develops a habit of visiting her and her husband every Thursday for a homecooked meal (and what a meal it is, especially to a city boy like Traynor).

After a few years, young mother Rhoda Kasselaw is brutally raped and murdered by a member of the notorious Padgitt family. The case against the murderer, Danny Padgitt, is remarkably solid, with a ton of physical and witness evidence. Nevertheless, the outcome is questionable because the Padgitt family is one of the most corrupt families in town and has its hands in all sorts of illegal dealings. Additionally, some public officials are known to be in the Padgitt family's pocket. Danny is tried before a packed courthouse in Clanton, Mississippi. One of the jurors is Traynor's friend, Callie Ruffin. The trial comes to a startling and dramatic end when the defendant, right there in the courtroom, threatens revenge against the jurors if they should convict him. Nevertheless, they find him guilty, and he is sentenced to life in prison.

Nine years later Danny Padgitt manages to get himself paroled. That's when the killing starts. One juror, a wheelchair-confined young man, is shot through the heart at long range. Another is shot at long range while making a maintenance call on a tractor - a call the killer arranged. Another juror, who since moved out of state, is sent a letter bomb in the mail and is maimed along with a deputy who is ridiculously incautious about opening strange packages - he actually sets it on the porch and shoots it while both he and its intended recipient are standing a mere few feet away. Naturally, Traynor is very concerned that his good friend Callie is next on the killer's list.

Everybody naturally suspects that Danny Padgitt is the killer. However, Callie reveals that the killer only seems to be targeting those jurors who voted not to give Danny Padgitt the death penalty. Nevertheless, the sheriff arrests Danny Padgitt as the most likely suspect, but when he brings Padgitt into the courtroom for arraignment, Padgitt is himself assassinated by the killer, who is chased to the roof and killed there by police. It turns out the killer was actually an assistant attorney for the prosecution in Rhoda Kasselaw's slaying. He was angry that Padgitt didn't get the death penalty for killing Rhoda Kasselaw, who happened to be the attorney's lover.

After all the excitement dies down, life goes back to normal in Ford County. Traynor decides to sell off his newspaper for a tidy profit, and the book ends with Callie Ruffin dying of old age in the hospital, surrounded by her family and friends. Traynor's last job for his paper will be to write Callie's obituary.