In The Last Juror, published in 2004, John Grisham explores race relations and racism in the American South of the 1970s. Although the title may lead readers to expect a taut courtroom thriller like Grisham's earlier works, this character-driven novel follows the growing relationship between twenty three-year-old Willie Traynor, new owner of the Ford County Times, and Calia Ruffin, also known as "Miss Callie," a fifty nine-year old black woman. She is the mother of eight children, seven of whom have earned Ph.D.s—a remarkable accomplishment for the period. The "juror" of the title does refer to an important legal case that acts as the centerpiece for the book—Danny Padgitt's explosive trial for the rape and brutal murder of a young local widow. Convicted of the murder but sentenced to life imprisonment instead of death, Padgitt spends ten years in jail. When he gets out, jurors from his case start to die under mysterious circumstances.
Over the course of the story, Grisham introduces many of Clanton, Mississippi's residents and local characters, people like politicians, war veterans, and decaying aristocracy who make the town colorful and unique.