The Chamber (novel)

The Chamber (1994) is a legal thriller written by American author John Grisham. It is Grisham's fifth novel.

The Chamber
Grisham The Chamber.gif
First edition cover
AuthorJohn Grisham
Original titleThe Chamber
CountryUnited States
GenreLegal thriller novel
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3557.R5355 C47 1994
Mississippi State Penitentiary, the primary setting of the book


In 1967, in Greenville, Mississippi, the office of Jewish lawyer Marvin Kramer is bombed, injuring Kramer and killing his two young sons. Sam Cayhall, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, is identified, arrested and tried for their murders, committed in retaliation for Kramer's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Sam's first two trials, engineered by his Klan-connected lawyer, each end in a mistrial. Twenty years later, the FBI pressures a suspected associate to testify against Sam at a third trial. Sam is convicted and sentenced to death by lethal gas. He is sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary and placed on death row.

Now without a lawyer, Sam becomes a pro bono case for a team of anti-death penalty lawyers from the large - and Jewish - Chicago law firm of Kravitz and Bane. Representing Sam is his own grandson, Adam Hall, who travels to the firm's Memphis office to aid Sam in the final month before his scheduled execution. Although lacking experience in death penalty cases, Adam is determined to argue a stay for his grandfather. Sam, despite his violent past, is one of the few living links to Adam's family history. Sam's alcoholic daughter, Lee Cayhall Booth, slowly reveals the family's tragic past to her nephew, Adam.

Initially uncooperative, Sam eventually opens up to Adam and reveals a remarkable depth of hard-won legal knowledge, regularly preparing his own briefs and court motions. Adam interviews the FBI agent in charge of the original case and realizes that Sam almost certainly did not commit the actual crime for which he had been found guilty, although he was present. Nevertheless, Sam has a long and largely-secret history of Klan-related crimes, including several murders. Dogan, the associate who testified against Sam at his third trial, has apparently been murdered by the Klan. Sam himself will not reveal if another associate exists, thus not violating the Klan's loyalty oath.

Adam desperately files motion after motion and argues some of them before judges. He seeks to persuade Mississippi's governor to grant a reprieve, knowing full well that such a move is politically impossible; Sam forbids such a move, suspecting that the governor is using him for political gain. All appeals are finally exhausted. Sam is now repentant, but does not want Adam as a witness to the execution. He faces the last moment with courage and fortitude, publicly repudiating his past with the Klan, and dies proud of his grandson and happy to have forged a strong link with him during this last month. The sentence is carried out, Sam having ordered Adam to walk away and not watch him die.

With Sam and Dogan dead, no one knows that Roland, the third man who prepared and set off the bomb, is still free and living nearby under a false identity and observing the progress of the case - having graduated from Klan member to a full-fledged "proud fascist" and neo-Nazi. The reader knows - but Adam never does - that Roland stalked the young lawyer and considered killing him, but concluded it was not necessary and that Sam would take his secret to the grave. Meanwhile, Adam, sickened but fascinated by the experience - and disliking the idea of having a career as a corporate lawyer - quits Kravitz and Bane. Instead he accepts a poorly-paid position with a group of anti-death penalty lawyers.

Lawsuit and dismissalEdit

Lawyer and author Polly Nelson sued Grisham in 1995, alleging The Chamber had striking similarities to Defending the Devil, her nonfiction book about her experiences as lawyer for serial killer Ted Bundy.[1][2] After Grisham prevailed in a lower court ruling in 1996, the case was dismissed on appeal in 1997.[3]

Film adaptationEdit

In 1996, The Chamber was made into a feature film starring Gene Hackman and Chris O'Donnell.


  1. ^ Torry, Saundra (June 19, 1995). Fact, Fiction and Fairness: The Copyright Wars Surge. Washington Post
  2. ^ Owens, John B. (2000). Grisham's Legal Tales: A Moral Compass for the Young Lawyer. 48 UCLA L. Rev. 1431 (2000-2001)
  3. ^ Kelly, Keith J. (October 10, 1997). Suit Doesn't Fit Grisham. New York Daily News

External linksEdit