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guardians

Texas murder case inspired Grisham novel

 By Glenn Dromgoole

            John Grisham says the plot for his new best-selling novel “The Guardians” (Doubleday, $29.95 hardcover) is based on a Texas murder case.

“Thirty years ago,” Grisham writes in an author’s note at the end of the book, “Joe Bryan was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, a horrible crime that occurred at night while Joe was sleeping in his hotel room two hours away. The investigation was botched from the beginning. The real killer was never identified, but strong evidence points to a former policeman who committed suicide in 1996.

“Joe should have been exonerated and freed years ago, but it hasn’t happened. His case languishes before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He’s seventy-nine years old and his health is failing. On April 4, 2019, he was denied parole for the seventh time.”

Grisham read about Bryan’s case in a New York Times Magazine article in 2018, and it inspired him to write “The Guardians” about a team of devoted, underpaid lawyers who work to free innocent inmates. Grisham flew to Beaumont to meet with Bryan in prison.

In the novel, the main character — attorney and Episcopal priest Cullen Post — takes on the case of Quincy Miller, who was convicted 22 years ago for the murder of his divorce lawyer. The conviction was based on spurious “back spatter” evidence that has since been discredited and on false testimony by a supposed eyewitness, a jailhouse snitch, and a disgruntled ex-wife. Post works to get the witnesses to admit they lied and to find a forensic expert to re-examine the evidence in light of new scientific data.

Meanwhile, Post and his investigator could find themselves or others involved in the long-ago trial in danger from corrupt, powerful and wealthy forces who don’t want the truth to come out.

Grisham, author of 40 novels, is on the board of the Innocence Project which has worked on 189 successful DNA-based exonerations. He based his character Cullen Post on a former prison chaplain, James McCloskey, whose team at Centurion Ministries has helped free 63 innocent men and women.

You can read more on-line about the Joe Bryan case. I Googled “Joe Bryan, John Grisham” and found several interesting interviews with the author and an article about his talk at the Texas Book Festival in October.

Save 20 percent on The Guardians in-store at Texas Star Trading, 174 Cypress St., downtown Abilene.