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Friday, November 16, 2012

A Time To Kill

I was surprised to find out that A Time To Kill was John Grisham's first novel; I always thought The Firm was his first. It turns out this was an quiet novel until the success of his the latter.

A young black girl is brutally raped on her way home from the grocery. Two white rednecks are arrested that night after bragging about it in a bar. Just a few short days later the girl's father shoots them both dead on the courthouse steps. He is put on trial and this is where the big questions begin. Will an insanity defense fly with the jury? Can an impartial jury even be found? Will the newly resurrected Klan in the county sufficiently intimidate the jurors and the lawyers enough to bring forth a guilty verdict?

It's a show stopper for sure. The story is incredibly intricate and complex, and there are many times where the story feels more detailed than it needs to be for non-legal readers. There are some occupational hazards to being a lawyer-turned-novelist, I would assume. I also become frustrated with what I felt was the overuse of the n-bomb as a casual description in the narrative. It went beyond use as a character foible (such as a racist redneck using it in conversation or in a thought description) and entered into the realm of regular usage in narrative to refer to black people in general, and that bothered me immensely by about page 120. I absolutely buy into the overt racism of small-town Mississippi in the 1980's, but I began to question if it was truth in the story or if it was Grisham himself.

Looking beyond that, I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed the story. I wouldn't say that Jake Brigance, the lawyer who defends the vigilante father, was entirely sympathetic or had much depth to his character, but I appreciated him for what he was. I couldn't get the picture of Matthew McConaughey out of my head as Jake (since I did see the movie first many moons ago). I really enjoyed the addition of Ellen Roark, the third-year law student as a foil for Jake. I was happy with the story's ending and was even a little surprised by a twist. Was it on the fantastical side? Oh, sure, a little--but isn't that why we read stories? Because sometimes life needs a little fantastical-ism.

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