29 December 2014

Review: A TIME TO KILL, John Grisham

  • format: Kindle (Amazon) - I bought it
  • File Size: 754 KB
  • Print Length: 530 pages
  • Publisher: Cornerstone Digital (April 21, 2010), first published 1989
  • #1 in the Jake Brigance series
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099134012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099134015
Synopsis (Amazon)

When Carl Lee Hailey guns down the hoodlums who have raped his ten-year-old daughter, the people of Clanton see it as a crime of blood and call for his acquittal.

But when extremists outside Clanton hear that a black man has killed two white men, they invade the town, determined to destroy anything and anyone that opposes their sense of justice.

Jake Brigance has been hired to defend Hailey. It's the kind of case that can make or break a young lawyer. But in the maelstrom of Clanton, it is also the kind of case that could get a young lawyer killed.

My Take

Despite the popularity of John Grisham, particularly among those who frequent airports (it seems from the book stands there), I have not read one in recent years. I chose this title to read because I was looking for a "Silver" Vintage Mystery read - written 1960-1989 - and featuring a courtroom or a lawyer.  It is the last title for my Vintage Mystery Bingo for 2014.

The novel has an interesting foreword by the author, in which he says it took him three years to write and is largely autobiographical. It is an exploration of a scenario that he came across in the press, and then personalised: how would he himself react if someone raped/killed his daughter?In the long run that is the question that Jack Brigance poses for the jury in Carl Lee Hailey's trial.

The story is set among the black/white tensions of the rural town of Clanton, Mississippi. Suspense builds as white and black residents take opposing views about whether Carl Lee Hailey should be found guilty: indeed there is a widespread belief that if he had been white he would not even have been charged. And then the black churches go into fighting mode, raising money for his defence. A local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan is created, and Klan members come from all over local counties to plant flaming crosses in the front yards of jury panel members and others. The National Guard is called in to keep the peace in Clanton town square after a battle breaks out between the blacks and Klan members. Jake Brigance sends his wife and young daughter out of state when he receives death threats on the phone.

The novel gives detailed descriptions of the workings of the Mississippi justice system. Court scenes come across graphically and vividly. The characters really came alive for me. Even until almost the last chapter, this reader had almost no idea how the story would end.

My rating: 4.4

The sequel to A TIME TO KILL, SYCAMORE ROW, was not published until 2013.
A TIME TO KILL certainly reads as if Grisham thought he might write a series with Jake Brigance at the centre, but he followed this up with THE FIRM.


Anonymous said...

I thought this was a really powerful story too, Kerrie

Unknown said...

I read this book many years ago, and I remember it as being the best of Grisham's thrillers. I had no idea it was first in a series.


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