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A Book Review of "The Chamber" by John Grisham

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John Grisham, author of "The Chamber"

John Grisham, author of "The Chamber"

The Chamber

John Grisham's The Chamber hit the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. This type of publicity is not unusual for him. Most of his books quickly rise to the top and become bestsellers. I read a well-worn paperback version of The Chamber with the copyright date 1994.

The author once worked as a lawyer. While he never personally represented a client on death row, he did his research, and he brings to life what it is like living under those circumstances.

The setting is Mississippi, and Sam Cayhall, who ends up on death row, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. At the end of the 676 pages, if you are like me, you will be considering the morality of the death penalty and the gas chamber in particular.

Plot Summary

What makes a person join an organization like the Ku Klux Klan? Sam Cayhall's father was a member of that hate group. Other people in the area where he grew up were also members. He fell into step as if it was the natural thing to do. An old cliche is the following: " An acorn does not fall far from the tree." Sam absorbed some of the same traits of hatred towards blacks and Jewish people as had his father and generations before him.

Sam does not orchestrate most of the operations but is instead a mindless foot soldier carrying out instructions. He becomes a husband and the father of two children—a boy and a girl. Does his conscience bother him when his actions result in the deaths of others? Early on, I doubted that was the case, but when two innocent children are in the wrong place at the wrong time and become victims, the story takes a turn.

Sam has done some horrendous things in his life, and in many cases, he's gotten off scot-free from a judicial standpoint. In this particular case, he is finally caught, and after a third trial, finally incarcerated for this crime because he lingered too long near the scene of a bombing. He is given a death sentence and enters Parchman State Penitentiary in Mississippi. Death row becomes his new home as he ages and becomes an old man.

"The Chamber" is all about actions, intentions, and far-reaching consequences.

"The Chamber" is all about actions, intentions, and far-reaching consequences.

Supporting Characters

Sam's behavior affects not only the people killed and their families, associates, and friends, but it also has lasting effects on his own family members as well. When old enough, both of his children move away from home.

His son Eddie even changes his last name to Hall to try and escape the shame associated with the name of Cayhall. Unlike his father, he has no interest in joining the Klan. The constant moving of his family and skipping from job to job becomes a pattern for Eddie Hall. His family bears the brunt of his dark mental days until he ultimately escapes by taking his own life.

His daughter Lee marries, so her name change comes about naturally. We get to learn about a particular day of horror she witnessed as a child and her ongoing struggles when going through the pages of this book.

One of the main characters of this novel, aside from Sam Cayhall is his grandson, Adam Hall. He becomes a lawyer and has made a study of his grandfather's trials. In an unlikely twist, he becomes the final lawyer for Sam, who tries his best to avert his date with the gas chamber.

We learn about all the machinations of briefs, motions, appeals, etc. as lower court rulings lead to a Mississippi Supreme Court decision. There is also the possibility of a commutation of sentence by the Governor of Mississippi. As the date draws ever closer, the speed of court filing actions pick up, and several entities are kept abreast at the same time of any last-minute changes.

People who have an interest in this case are fleshed out by the author as this page-turner continues. A shadowy figure who is a demolition expert is Sam's accomplice in the crime. Threats made by him could cost more lives if his identity is revealed.

Life on death row is routine for Sam, the protagonist of the novel.

Life on death row is routine for Sam, the protagonist of the novel.

Death Row

Living on death row gives a certain rhythm to the day. One hour a day, Sam is allowed out in the yard for exercise or merely to experience some fresh air. Of course, this space is under the watchful eyes of guards in towers. Fencing with razor wire at the top precludes any thoughts of escape.

Inside the tiny cell, food is served each day at the same time. The cells are not air-conditioned. Inmates endure sweltering heat or damp cold conditions depending upon the season. The noise from television sets in neighboring cells is heard. Communication between inmates occurs. Much napping and sleeping take place. Inmates are allowed to read books, and Sam takes an interest in law, eventually becoming somewhat of an expert.

Guards and inmates get to know one another well over the years. One of the rules is bent a bit for Sam as his final day grows ever closer. He is let out in the yard early one day so that he can watch a sunrise—something that he has not been able to see in years.

The exact chemicals used in a gas chamber execution and nuances of the last days and minutes are brought into focus. What happens to a human body when dying in this manner? Does his grandson Adam argue the case successfully, and does Sam win a last-minute appeal? Does Sam repent for his past actions? Does Sam reveal the identity of his accomplice? You will have to read The Chamber by John Grisham to learn more.

The Takeaway

Should you read The Chamber? A despicable act on the part of a Klansman takes place at the start of this mesmerizing book. Sam Cayhall's role in it affects several generations of his family plus innocent parties targeted in this heinous crime. John

Grisham knows how to spin a believable tale that will have you thinking long after closing the book's last page. If you're looking for a realistic and thought-provoking page-turner centered on morality and the judicial system, this book would be a great choice for you

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Peggy Woods


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 01, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

From what you wrote, I believe that you would genuinely enjoy reading this book by John Grisham. He is a master at building a riveting story!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 31, 2020:

That was a great review and you really left us with teasers at the end! I’m always looking for excellent books, especially psychological thrillers and mysteries.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 02, 2020:

Hi Dale,

We also had a sizable collection of John Grisham books at one point before I started giving books away. I plan to share this one with others who like such fantastic story-telling.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 02, 2020:

I'll ask my wife if she has read this. She has become quite the Grisham fan and began collecting his works some years ago,

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 29, 2020:

Hello Umesh,

Thanks for your comment on this book review of The Chamber by John Grisham.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 29, 2020:

Well presented.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 28, 2020:

Hi MG Singh,

Thanks for reading my review of The Chamber, and leaving your insightful comment.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 27, 2020:

This is a wonderful review of a story on a thrilling subject. All credit to you for bringing alive the essence of the story and the mental turmoil connected with the KKK.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 23, 2020:

Hi Denise,

If you are not familiar with John Grisham's books, and if you read this one, you will probably wish to read more. Thanks for letting me know that I made this book sound "intriguing."

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 23, 2020:

I will have to check this out. You make it sound very intriguing.



Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 21, 2020:

Hi Christy,

I am pleased to know that you have also read many of John Grisham's books and have seen his movies made from his books. He is an author worth following. Thanks for your comment.

Christy Birmingham-Reyes on July 20, 2020:

Such a great book - I remember it! That author has so many great reads, it's no wonder his works have been made into movies. Well done with the review, Peggy.

Robert Sacchi on July 20, 2020:

Thank you.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2020:

Hi Robert,

If you have the time to read "The Chamber," I am sure you would enjoy it.

Robert Sacchi on July 19, 2020:

Thanks for presenting. This seems a very interesting read.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 16, 2020:

Hi Dora,

Yes, I would heartedly recommend reading "The Chamber" by John Grisham. He is a fantastic story teller!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 16, 2020:

Thanks for the review. The author is a reputable story teller, and according to your review, this book is no exception. You make a strong recommendation to read the book for ourselves.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 16, 2020:

Hi Fran,

You must truly appreciate the Grisham books since you work in that field. I am not a lawyer, but love reading his novels.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 16, 2020:

Hi Chitrangada,

Once you have read one John Grisham book, you are likely to wish to read more. He is a terrific author! Thanks for letting me know what you think regarding the poll.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 16, 2020:

Hi Rosina,

I am glad to know that you enjoyed this book review of "The Chamber."

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on July 16, 2020:

Peggy, great review!. Grisham is one of my favorite authors and I have read most of his books. Since I worked in the field I find it easy to relate to many of his novels.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 16, 2020:

Great review of the book, The Chamber, by John Grisham. Your review makes me feel interested in reading the book. I have heard of his books, but yet to read one.

Regarding your poll, it depends on the nature of the crime.

Thanks for sharing this excellent review.

Rosina S Khan on July 16, 2020:

This book review for the novel, "The Chamber" by John Grisham seems to be quite interesting. If I come across the novel, I will definitely read it. Thank you, Peggy, for such an awesome book review.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Linda,

John Grisham is a terrific author. Once you read one, I'm sure you will wish to read more by him.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 15, 2020:

I've never read any of John Grisham's books. Thank you for sharing this interesting review, Peggy. I'll explore Grisham's work.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Manatita,

Fortunately, Sam's son and daughter did not continue in his footsteps, but long-lasting damage was already done to their lives by his actions.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Bill,

You are the first person to respond that you have already read "The Chamber" and highly recommend it. Thanks for your endorsement as to the quality of this book.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Pamela,

I did not want to give too much of the plot away to spoil it for those who wish to read it. As a Grisham fan, I am sure you will enjoy it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Rajan,

Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed this review, and wrote that it was "compelling."

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Lorna,

It would be hard being on a jury where one had to consider a death penalty case. Fortunately, I have never had to sit on such a jury trial.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi John,

We also used to collect his books, but years ago, I started giving them away for others to read. You will enjoy reading "The Chamber." I plan to pass it on now that I have read it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Ruby,

Because of COVID-19, after clearing out closets and other projects, it has freed up some time to do some catchup reading. We have also watched more movies on television than ever before. I have always loved to read, and now have more time for it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020:

Hi Liza,

If your sister still has this book, I feel sure that you will enjoy it. I have never been disappointed when reading a John Grisham book. For a time, we collected his books.

manatita44 from london on July 15, 2020:

It is unfortunate that these things happen. In Yoga we say the root cause is Ignorance. We are basically lost and do not know what we are doing. We just seem to know or follow a crowd we believe in.

Lots of moral and other issues. Your video speaks of financial costs, but you have taken us through some of the costs and aspects of considerations so well. I read that novel through you. Brilliant work!

I will send you my Magnum Opus, Autobiography of a Rolls Rice Cereal (soon) Job well done and 'stay blessed!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 15, 2020:

I love Grisham the author, and I have read this book. It's a winner for sure, and I highly recommend it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 15, 2020:

I really like John Grisham's books and I haven't read one for a while. I think the book review you wrote is very good, Peggy. I might read this book next. I am always in the middle of some book.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 15, 2020:

Quite a compelling review. Makes me want to read this seemingly interesting novel. Thanks for the review.

Lorna Lamon on July 15, 2020:

A great review Peggy which asks the reader to question the morality of the death sentence, and the circumstances leading up to this sentence. An interesting read given today's climate.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on July 14, 2020:

Thank you for sharing this Peggy. John Grisham is one of my favourite authors and I have a huge collection of his books. I actually have this in my collection but haven’t read it yet. You have convinced me to do just that. Some wonderful movies have been made from his stories as well.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on July 14, 2020:

Who has time to read?, but I would love to read this book. This is living proof that a child learns evil and hate from the parents. How sad that the son took his life. You made the book so interesting.

Liza from USA on July 14, 2020:

Peggy, I am a fan of John Grisham. I started reading his book when I was a student at a university. Some of my personal favorites are Playing for Pizza, The Client, A Time to Kill, and The Street Lawyer. Many of his books have adapted to films. Thank you for the review of The Chamber. I believe my sister bought the book many years ago. I have to look at it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 14, 2020:

Hi Bill,

I have read many of Grisham's early books, including "A Time to Kill," "The Firm," "The Pelican Brief," and others. I have not read "The Last Juror," so thanks for the heads up. If you are a Grisham fan, I know you will enjoy "The Chamber."

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 14, 2020:

Hi Peggy. Sounds like an interesting read. I just finished “The Last Juror”, also by Grisham so I think I would enjoy “The Chamber.” Thanks for the review.