Critique on The Chamber by John Grisham

During the 1960s, America was going through many changes.  Schools were being desegregated, the Civil Rights movement was in full force, and police investigating was about to take a whole new path for finding justice.  The field of forensic science was on the brink of making its mark in the justice system.

Unfortunately, its use in law enforcement did not occur until many years later.  In the 1994 book, The Chamber, written by John Grisham the field of forensic science is brought to light in a way that is only recognized by someone studying forensics.  John Grisham makes it a point to bring out the importance of forensic science in most of his fictional writings.
In the book, The Chamber, Grisham brings to life two main characters.  The first character is Adam Hall, a young, nave, and still wet-behind-the ears attorney who is sent to southern Mississippi to represent a man on death row.  At the beginning, Hall has no idea that the man he will be representing is actually his grandfather, Sam Cayhill.  Hall stays in Mississippi with his aunt whom he has not seen in years, but nonetheless, she shows her southern hospitality by inviting him into her home.  His aunt drinks entirely too much and is referred to as a functional alcoholic (Grisham, 1994). In laymans terms, it means that if she is drinking she seems sober, but if she is without a drink, she appears drunk.  As Hall digs deeper and deeper into the case as the execution date is quickly approaching, he makes some shocking discoveries that make it difficult for him to proceed with the case.
Hall meets with Cayhill through a piece of glass in a visitation area set up for attorneys to meet with their clients.  Cayhill is in his late 60s now, moves slowly, is handcuffed and shackled, and claims to not remember many details of the event.  This leaves Hall to do much of his own grunt work in order to find out what really happened.  Additionally, it left him sorting out the details surrounding the crime on his own.  He makes a startling discovery while researching the case.  It involves the bomb that was used and murdered the Kramer twins.  This bomb was of a different caliber than usual during that era.  It was set up on a timing device to detonate at a specific time.  Hall doubted that Cayhill had that type of engineering knowledge, but he questioned Cayhill about it anyway (Grisham, 1994).

Cayhill seemed distant and uncooperative with Halls line of questioning.  Hall repeatedly reminded Cayhill that time was of the essence and there was not much of it left.  Hall already knew that this meant there was a second person involved in the bombing murder of the Kramer twins, but Cayhill would not admit to it.  Hall continued to batter his own client with questions in reference to the construction of the bomb, but failed to mention the timing device as a means of getting Cayhill to tell the truth.  Cayhill was set in his ways and refused to divulge any information surrounding the bomb (Grisham, 1994).

What seems so damning in this story is that a man was willing to die to protect the crime of another.  Cayhill was merely an accomplice to the crime, and would most likely have been given life in prison for his part therein.  In reviewing the evidence of the crime, the remnants of the bomb used to blow up the building were all that was left.  If forensic science was available during that era, it would have been easily determined that the bomb was created by someone with an engineering and mechanical ability.  Cayhill barely had a third grade education, much less the ability to build bombs with timing detonators.  Forensic science would have been able to secure the crime scene and more than likely find additional evidence such as footprints, fibers from clothing, or even hair that could have been sent to the crime lab for determination.  Still, the fact remains that the bomb used was not of the caliber of bombs made in that era.

Forensic science has collectively made the investigatory process during criminal investigations more in depth and more involved.  It takes more time to process a crime scene today than in yesteryear, but the results are accurate and precise.  As the field of forensic science expands and grows, it is continually used to re-evaluate cases that have been determined to be solved or closed.  These re-opened cases have had dramatic results and some have even been overturned resulting in immediate pardons issued by state governors.  This does not give back the lost time to the wrongly accused and convicted person, but it does stand to exonerate them and clear their name.  In the book by Grisham, the character on death row, Cayhill, could have easily given the name of the man responsible for creating and planting the bomb.  If forensic science were available back then, it would not have been relevant for Cayhill to reveal who the engineer was because their means of investigation would have been able to determine that fact.
The book, The Chamber, is divided up into four intricate parts.  The book chronicles many issues including the use of forensic science, the death penalty, social impact, and legal premise leading up to the execution of a death row inmate.  The mention of forensics is so deeply embedded in the writing, that if one is not looking for it, it can easily be overlooked.  The design and creation of the bomb is the only piece of evidence mentioned throughout the book, yet it is the only key piece of evidence.  The fact that Cayhill was an admitted Klansman during the Civil Rights movement era made it that much easier to point a finger and get a guilty verdict.  It should be mentioned that before Cayhills conviction, he was tried twice before and both juries were hung.  Cayhill had spent some twenty-five years on death row for a crime that he did not solely commit, but if one has any knowledge of the Ku Klux Klan, then it is understood why Cayhill never revealed his accomplice.  If Cayhill had revealed at any point the name of the person who masterminded the bomb design, great harm could have come to members of his family.  Halls aunt with whom he stayed with during the representation of Cayhill was also Cayhills daughter.  Even though many years had passed, Cayhill was still living in an era that no longer existed.  His thoughts and beliefs were outdated, but yet he remained true to an oath that he took to an organization of great demise and despair.
It would have been a more interesting read if Grisham had incorporated the use of a forensic psychologist to evaluate Cayhill.  For one to be able to see into the mind of a person still living in an era past would be intriguing.  It would be educational to know and understand what and how ones mind can become so twisted and racist.  The book was catching, but it would have been more enlightening if Grisham had made his character Adam Hall a little more assertive in the way of having a forensics expert examine the remnants of the bomb in evidence.  It would have provided actual proof of a second person being responsible for the detonation and design of the timing device. Suffice it to say, it is a very good book, and the use of forensics may be a little bleak, but still made for an entertaining read.  This book forces one to question his or her own beliefs as far a racism is concerned, and it forces one to demand the use of forensic science in all criminal investigations.  From the social concept, it makes society think long and hard about the death penalty despite who the criminal is on death row.  Society has become so callus to death that the evening news is more like a sitcom than something that should make everyone shudder in disbelief.  Grisham is a great writer, but he should include forensics in more of his works.


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