JoAn Martin

The Guardian by John Gresham, Hale Publishers, 2019, 284 pages

In the small 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. The police soon came to suspect Quincy Miller, a young black man who was once a client of Russo’s. 

Quincy was tried, convicted, and sent to prison for life. For twenty-two years he languished in prison, maintaining his innocence. But no one was listening. He had no lawyer, no advocate on the outside. In desperation, he writes a letter to Guardian Ministries, a small nonprofit run by Cullen Post, a lawyer who is also an Episcopal priest.

Guardian accepts only a few innocence cases at a time. Cullen Post travels the country fighting wrongful convictions and taking on clients forgotten by the system. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for. 

Powerful, ruthless people murdered Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy Miller exonerated. They killed one lawyer twenty-two years ago, and they will kill another without a second thought. Post lives on borrowed time.

Pay attention to the clerical collar that Cullen Post occasionally dons, being both priest and investigative lawyer, his Guardian Ministries devoted to freeing inmates who have been wrongly imprisoned. Says an adversary at the start of the book, learning that his conviction is about to be overturned, “Is this a joke, Post?” Post replies: “Oh sure. Nothing but laughs over here on death row.” 

Aided by an Atlantan whom he sprang from the slam earlier, Post turns his energies to trying to do the same for Quincy Miller, a black man imprisoned for the murder of a white Florida lawyer who “had been shot twice in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun, and there wasn’t much left of his face.” 

It’s to such icky details that Post’s meticulous mind turns: Why a shotgun and not a pistol, as most break-ins involve? Who would have done such a thing—surely not the guy’s wife, and surely not for a measly $2 million in life insurance? As Grisham strews the path with red herrings, Post, though warned off by a smart forensic scientist, begins to sniff out clues that point to a culprit closer to the courtroom bench than the sandy back roads of rural Florida. 

Grisham populates his yarn with occasionally goofy details — a prosecuting attorney wants Post disbarred “for borrowing a pubic hair” from the evidence in a case. The “innocent people rotting away in prison” whom Post champions are there because they are black and brown, put there by mostly white jurors, and the real perp “knew that a black guy in a white town would be much easier to convict.” The tale is long but it has a satisfying payoff—and look out for that collar at the end.

JoAn Martin is a retired teacher with five published novels. Reach her at Josbook@mindspring.com or www.josbooks.com

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