A Time to Kill by John Grisham

Like many others, I enjoy reading some of the latest titles from prolific author John Grisham. During this time of quarantine, I thought I would go back and start with the book that launched his writing career, A Time to Kill. He was a young lawyer just 3 years out of law school. The story came to him he recalls, while spending many hours in court rooms observing and learning from good lawyers trying their cases. One day, he “stumbled upon a horrible trial”. He watched as a young girl testified against the man who brutally raped her. It was a “gut wrenching” experience that made him wonder what he would do if he was her father. The idea of buying a gun and shooting the rapist he admits occurred to him as he watched her suffer before the jury. He wanted justice for the nightmare that young girl and her family had to endure. It was then that the idea of a story came to him. To what lengths would a father go for retribution and what would an average jury due to such a father?

The story he wrote is set in the small predominantly white town of Clanton in Ford County, Mississippi. The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken white men who without a shred of remorse rape, beat, and leave her broken body for dead. The town reacts with shock and horror until her black father acquires an assault rifle and with careful planning takes justice into his own hands.

Jake Brigance a young lawyer with a wife and little girl of his own takes the case as the defense lawyer for the father. Although Jim Crow laws are no longer enforced when this story was written in 1987, the ancestral racism of the deep south remained strong, and permeated nearly every aspect of life including the justice system. As the trial begins, burning crosses, KKK marches, and sniper fire spreads through the streets of Clanton. The National Guard is called in and the young attorney struggles to save the life not only of his client but also his own and his family’s.

This is an amazing first novel from a young author. The characters are masterfully and fully drawn. They are complex, alternately fascinating and horrifying people depicting both the best and the worst of what humanity is capable of. The story is whip smart, imaginative, and compelling. Grisham is a gifted storyteller who has the skills and experience to provide a razer sharp critique of our justice system.
Written by John G., Tech Center

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