Clanton, Mississippi

When one can clearly imagine, as if it is were a real scene, the okra growing, the heat rising off the land, the back-country roads, the courthouse square, and the coffee shop where locals gather early in the morning for grits and coffee…well, you know you have picked up a gem of a book.

Clanton. Mississippi has long been that fictional place where John Grisham takes his readers. He has crafted several books with engaging legal plots using Ozzie the sheriff, Dumas the local newspaper reporter, and of course the young lawyer, Jake Brigance. There is the rough-edged divorce lawyer Harry Rex Vonner, and the at-times drunk owner of the building housing the law offices, Lucien Wilbanks. The racial atmosphere of fictional Ford County is a constant and powerful theme, as much as is the tightly packed dialogue that Grisham excels at in whatever book he has written.

Shortly after the election, and in dire need for a change of focus, I picked up Grisham’s latest Clanton treasure, A Time For Mercy. If there are tonics for the soul in book form, this one is clearly an example. The storyline plot is tragic and yet the escape to Clanton, a place so wonderfully designed to capture the readers’ imagination and allow for some genuine laughs and smiles, makes for an adventure.

Roughly 25 years ago I started reading Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, on the back lawn of the Hancock family home before a Sunday cookout. It was his first book and one set in Clanton. (I have a rather odd memory of memorable books and where I read a portion of them.) The author has stated that he was not overly fond of that first effort at a book, but there is no getting around the fact his use of ”local charm’–both good and bad–is something he is a master at creating.

I have been reading Grisham books for decades and enjoy the fast plotting and engaging characters he develops. But it is Clanton, and the mood of the place which he uses as a device to wrap around his courtroom creations, which gives that added dimension this reader loves.

If you wish to travel to a locale without a car or plane and stay safe during this pandemic, while also stepping way back from the political chaos I suggest visiting Clanton, Mississippi.

The Other Lar(r)y Swoboda

Late Sunday night I needed something different to read, and I wanted it short as the mission was to get tired so I could sleep. Well… was short but also created some laugher along the way.

I was tucked in my window seat with an i-Pad which had a downloaded copy of John Grisham’s Witness To A Trial. The book was only 43 pages long so I reasoned by the time the last page was concluded I would be ready for my pillow.

Long-time readers know I worked with State Representative Lary (one R) Swoboda at the Wisconsin Statehouse. I have written about him numerous times on this blog and gently implied he was unique. So it was a jolt when in Chapter Four I encounter Grishman’s inexperienced defense lawyer named….Larry Swoboda.

The lawyer had not wanted the double-murder case but the judge ordered Swoboda, age 31 and from Panama City, to take it. ‘However, not long after he got it, he realized he was in over his head.”

Wow–this was getting more real as the pages turned.

And then the hunt was on to find out if there was any online information as to how this award-winning legal writer landed on that name for a character. There was nothing to be found which matched my request…but one of the notables with that last surname was a Wisconsin Legislator.

The book was good—short and satisfying. Sleep took longer, however, as a result of reading………

Letter From Home “Living History” 3/13/20

Several years ago, a longtime friend from my days in radio broadcasting, reflected how we had witnessed so many truly amazing new stories in our lifetime. Both of us had grown up during the years of Watergate.  Though we were small boys we still had memories of Richard Nixon resigning from the White House.  But in our adult years we had witnessed the Challenger explosion, a traumatic event for the entire nation. Then we recalled the 2000 election which was decided by the United States Supreme Court.

There was President Clinton’s impeachment process, the bombastic 2016 election, the truly bizarre years of Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, and then his impeachment proceedings.  Now we are experiencing a pandemic, a  virus that is impacting every aspect of society.

As a news junkie, and a politico, I do try to keep up on the world. But for the past 48 hours it has been almost impossible to stay current with the news stories, and now cancellations, regarding all parts of our society.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has called for the closing of all state schools.  Dane County  has demanded that any venue with 250 people or more be closed. Broadway shows in downtown Madison have been canceled, and all music venues in the city shuttered for the next number of weeks. To say this is unprecedented would be a most absurd understatement. We are living history.

About a week ago James and I knew with the rate of increase of the coronavirus it would certainly impact the city in which we live. It was then we decided to do, what we call ‘pantry shopping’, a couple-hour spree where  loading up on the essentials occurs.  We do such a trip to a large grocery store about every 8 months, and in so doing,   James, who is nothing short of a chef, has all he needs to create meals from our freezers and shelves. The last thing we desire to do is eat out at a time of such uncertainty.  And to undermine the whole rationale of remaining apart from others so to limit the spread of the virus.  In so doing the effort will aid in not overwhelming our medical communities.

As we joked with other people on social media we had stocked up on coffee, wine, and enough books to last for many weeks. In fact, we had joked perhaps the most important item on our list was to make sure plenty of books were available that would meet our interests.

Two nights ago, when the news started to become rather intense, I selected one of those guilty pleasure reads, and started to turn the pages. The book Sycamore Row, by John Grisham, was the perfect tonic as the news stories were alarming, facts were distressing, and a general mood of deep concern settled over the land.  The fictional account from Ford County, a place made so famous by Grisham, allowed for real escapism.

While most of my reading enjoyment has always been about history I am finding a certain comfort in the fast storytelling of Grisham, knowing that the lawyer at the heart of the story will come out as a winner and successful on the closing pages. It is, after all, good to be assured that Grisham books always end on a high note.

Meanwhile, the historical news story playing out with this pandemic can not be cast with any degree of certainty as to how it ends. There is no way to predict the next news cycle, the duration of the virus, or the devastation that it will leave in its wake.

All we know is that this is a moment in time which will be recorded by historians, read about by future generations, and reflected on long after this event has passed away. How leadership is demonstrated by our government officials, and how we as individuals conduct ourselves during this arduous time in our country will be long recorded and remembered.

Let us do our part to make sure the written accounts of this time cast us in a credible light, as we worked with a unified effort to care for each other.

Canton, Mississippi Not Just Drama In Grisham Novels

If you are a John Grisham fan this locale in the news story will strike a chord.

I recall the first Grisham book I ever read–years after it was published–took place on a Sunday afternoon at the family home in the backyard prior to a picnic.  The book was his first novel, and in later interviews he remarked that he did not think it was his best effort.  (I loved the read.)

With memories of A Time To Kill and Canton, Mississippi comes this story of current times and voter fraud.

Six people were arrested Thursday and one was arrested Friday after a grand jury indicted them on a variety of election fraud charges. They face accusations of bribing voters, improperly helping people fill out absentee ballots, voting despite being convicted of disqualifying felonies, and voting even though they lived outside the city or voting district.

The indictments come at a time that a disputed North Carolina congressional race is bringing attention to alleged election misdeeds nationwide.

Moral Of Story When In Massive Rainstorm In Madison Is…..

So at 7:30 P.M. Monday I told my partner, James, we needed to “experience the storm”.  Madison was having a seriously major downpour that was already hours long.  I love weather and never got my chance at being a meteorologist.  James wonders why we have a very fast car—he has not yet heard my plans for being a storm chaser.   But that is another post.

So we left the Madison isthmus and traveled to the West Side.  We looked about and it was not until I felt the lift of the car start on High Point Road that I had my first feel that this was too much adventure.  Cars ahead of me were floating.  That is when I made a smart and careful U-turn.

But just as fast my mind went to food and dinner.  We ate at a Hilldale restaurant and had our car parked in the Target underground garage.  After dinner we walked back and when we were set to leave the ramp there was no place to go–University Ave was floating cars in the direction heading up to UW-Hospital.  So we went back into the garage and shopped at Target.

Folks where milling about in the large store–several nurses from UW-Hospital.  All looking at their electronic gadgets and seemingly not sure what to make of the large mass of heavy rain lingering over our area.  The store announced the place would not close at 11 PM but would remain open as a shelter.  So James and I headed to the books section (John Grisham for me, and James bought a book about France in WWII).  We were set for at least 400 pages.

It was fun, however, as others in the coffee shop area were joking and care-free.  Thankfully no children were stranded.,  The manager even brought out some games from the store for people to play.  At some point it looked like we could make it on the road and so we left.

Not so fast, bunky.

University Avenue was littered with inoperative cars and at some point impassable with water.  Some college age guys–one with a charming accent–told us how to take a turn and then some other directions to route us out of the area.   After riding on streets I had never heard of we somehow made it to Speedway and then on home at 12:15 AM.  Just a ways down our street the rain gauge at a friend’s home read 4 and 1/3 inches.

So the moral of this story is not to limit our exploration of wild weather…..the moral of the story is always leave home with a book!

(I can hear my mother sighing—LOUDLY!)

Steven Avery Most Over-Rated Story As 2016 Begins

Last night as I read John Grisham’s Gray Mountain my mind wandered for some reason to Steven Avery.  The storyline in this Grisham novel is well plotted and the narrative is bouncy and fast-paced.  But as I put the book down and pondered the Avery matter that has captivated so many one thought came to mind.

Even Grisham could not construct a plausible scenario where this killer and seriously depraved person could be exonerated.   And even if Grisham tried the legal leaps that would be required to do so and also ask the reader to find it believable would up-end his career.

That is how totally absurd the current rush of new stories about Steven Avery has become due to filmmakers’ attempts to turn his legal drama into some great injustice demanding to be corrected.  I am mindful that Oliver Stone has made some great films but I am not encouraging students of history to watch JFK for guidance on how to better grasp what happened in Dallas in 1963.   We need to have the same level of level-headedness when it comes to this Avery film.

For the record I have not watched the series on Avery as I have a life and also books on shelves that call out to be read.   I am not being mean-spirited concerning those who have taken the time to watch the series but know the power a filmmaker has with a subject like Avery and an audience who wants to be convinced that some great wrong has been committed.     I think the record of legal proceedings as we read and watched unfold at the time of the trial is more than enough to know about this killer.

But Avery will continue to make news–and those who want to create a narrative of some great injustice will continue to speak out until they find some other topic that diverts them away from this mess of a man.

The latest story to showcase why this is a joke and a waste of time–comes in the pages of a new legal filing from Avery that seeks his release.  The motion was filed yesterday and filled with misspellings, grammatical errors, and meandering language.

Steven Avery said authorities used an improper search warrant and that any evidence found as a result “is clearly ‘FRUIT OF THE POISONIOUS TREE.'”  It continues with saying the judge “inartfully circomnavigated around irrefutable, uncontrovertable evidence in Avery’s favour.”

No lawyers name was added to the appeal.  That is not hard to understand.  After all, who would strap themselves to this legal mess unless they were seeking to make a name for themselves?

The year is just getting started but it seems we might be hard-pressed to find another story in 2016 that could rise to the level where everyone is talking about something that is simply a ginned up fantasy to the degree this one concerning Avery has become.

State of Oklahoma vs. Justice Makes For Winning John Grisham Novel About Baseball Player Ron Williamson


There is no way not to be appalled at the real-life story John Grisham details about small town ‘justice’ in Oklahoma.  Every now and then I had to lay the book down and remind myself it was a story that had actually happened.  But it was a true story.  In fact, one of lawyers that would be at the heart of the O.J. Simpson trial had a large role in the final phase of the book.

The fact that some states have such lax standards when it comes to justice, as with the case of Oklahoma, should concern us all.  This book will force some serious thinking as the pages turn.

As the cover sums up this book is sure to raise questions and concerns about the justice system, and force some questioning about the death penalty.

In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.

With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.

If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you.

What Would Loosen Up President Obama?

I very much enjoy the books authored by John Grisham, and am looking forward to reading his latest ‘The Racketeer”.

Last week there was an interview conducted for The New York Times where Grisham was asked a series of questions which included what writer, dead or alive, he would like to meet.  Mark Twain, he stated, when the famed author was about 40 years old.

But it was Grisham’s response to what book should be required reading by President Obama that made me laugh.

“Fifty Shades of Grey.” Why should he miss all the fun? Plus, it might loosen him up a bit