When an attorney takes on a matter of life and death, the client is usually the only person in peril.
But not in John Grisham’s new legal thriller, “The Guardians.” Danger stalks lawyer Cullen Post and the inmate he represents.
Post — an attorney-turned-Episcopal priest — combines those roles for Guardian Ministries, a four-person operation that investigates the cases of prisoners who might have been wrongly convicted.
With several successes in hand and five ongoing investigations, Post and his colleagues — founder Vicki Gourley, litigation chief Mazy Ruffin and investigator-exoneree Francois “Frankie” Tatum — accept the case of Quincy Miller. An African American convicted of murdering white lawyer Keith Russo of fictional Seabrook — a small town in the north Florida backwoods — Miller is in the 23rd year of a life sentence.
As Post studies the case, he learns that the murder weapon was never found and that a flashlight considered a key piece of evidence disappeared. And he hears credible rumors of drug lords and corrupt cops.
To gather evidence, he travels to Arkansas to interview a jailhouse snitch, to Tennessee to confront a woman who said she saw Miller fleeing the scene, to Idaho to question a former deputy sheriff, to Richmond to consult a forensic-evidence specialist at VCU, and to the Bahamas, where he hears a horrific story — and a graphic warning — from the lawyer who defended Miller at trial and who has since abandoned his legal career.
Grisham, a native of Arkansas who practiced law in Mississippi, now lives near Covesville in Albemarle County. He has written 33 novels, a collection of short stories, six books in a young-adult series and one work of nonfiction.
He works his usual narrative magic in “The Guardians” — a chilling account of how an innocent man can be railroaded by liars, frauds and crooks.
With his début, 1989’s “A Time to Kill,” Grisham established himself as a skilled storyteller, a writer who can nimbly portray complex characters who overcome their fears and flaws to pursue justice.
Thirty years later, his authorial prowess glows again in this riveting tale, one that offers a grim reminder that the American promise of “liberty and justice for all” represents an aspiration, not an accomplishment.