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From Grisham: A Race Against A Mississippi Execution

THE chamber referred to in the title of John Grisham's latest legal thriller, ``The Chamber,'' is not a judge's offices but the gas chamber in which Mississippi executions took place until recently.

This is a Grisham legal novel with a difference: While the protagonist is (as usual) a lawyer, his client is not threatened with death by the mob, but by the state.

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Sam Cayhall is an ex-member of the Ku Klux Klan implicated in the 1967 bombing of a Jewish lawyer's office in which the lawyer's twin 5-year-old sons were killed. Tried twice and acquitted by all-white juries, he was retried for a third time in the late 1980s, convicted, and sentenced to death (the case recalls the real-life case of Byron De La Beckwith, recently convicted, after three trials, of the murder of civil-rights activist Medgar Evers in the 1960s).

On death row for many years, Cayhall has run out of appeals, despite the best efforts of his high-powered Chicago law firm, and a date for his execution has been set. But Adam Hall, a young lawyer working there who has followed the case for several years, is convinced he can get Cayhall's sentence commuted, and convinces the firm and Sam to let him try with only weeks to go. The hitch: Adam Hall is Sam Cayhall's grandson.

As usual with Grisham, the story is gripping and pulls the reader along. All the elements that have made Grisham a successful (and rich) writer are here: fine writing, believable characters, social comment, courtroom drama, and legal maneuvers a layman can figure out.

Sometimes the dialogue seems a bit too articulate in the mouth of the person speaking it, but that's a small quibble.

Whatever one's views on the death penalty, this is a provocative book. It might even add tone to the debate.

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