Picks and Pans Review: The Last Juror

updated 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By John Grisham

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Tapping into the spirit of such revered fish-out-of-water flicks as Doc Hollywood and My Cousin Vinny—come on, you know you love 'em—Grisham's latest follows the travails of a 23-year-old college dropout from up north, Willie Traynor, who buys a small-town newspaper in 1970s Mississippi. The paper is a money pit when this cocky do-gooder takes over, but thanks in part to his gutsy editorial applause for racial integration in schools, he gets circulation skyrocketing. The death threats, on the other hand, are a bummer.

Grisham can be preachy, but here, in his best book in years, he is funny, clever and charming. To appease the bestseller gods, his title has the appropriate stink of legalese, and indeed, there are courtroom theatrics. But the story's big, beating heart is the hero's friendship with a black mother of eight who is negotiating formidable racial barriers. Weepy readers, prepare: By the end, Willie comes of age, but not without a jarring and genuinely moving last-page shot to the heart.

THRILLER

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