In John Grisham’s first novel, life becomes complicated in Clanton, Mississippi when a black Vietnam veteran kills the two white men who raped and maimed his 10-year-old daughter when they are leaving the courthouse after their preliminary hearing. Enter young, passionate, honest local street lawyer, Jake Brigance. He takes the case to defend Carl Lee Hailey even though he thinks he cannot win. Why? Because this is the biggest case he can imagine and it will change his career forever. Little does Jake know, this case is much bigger than even he imagined.
Look, Ozzie, put yourself in his place. The cops have your house surrounded at one o’clock in the mornin’ waitin’ for somebody to throw a bomb. Now, would you wanna stay in bed asleep or would you wanna know about it? – Deputy Joe Pirtle
A polarizing and yet balanced and humane novel, A Time to Kill highlights all the sides of this argument. Carl Lee used vigilante justice in place of the law. The ripple effect of Tonya Hailey’s rape soon touches everyone in this small town. From the coffee shop regulars to the law enforcement to the KKK to the NAACP– we see an even account of both black and white opinions from people who’s experiences and beliefs run the gamut. Tensions run high. We see challenges stack up against Jake and Carl Lee, then the odds turn in their favor, only to turn back against them again.
It’s a fragile system, this trusting of lives to twelve average, ordinary people who do not understand the law and are intimidated by the process. – Reverend Isaiah Street
I picked this book up on the recommendation of a friend. It’s definitely not something I would have gravitated to on my own, in all honesty. But I trust her opinion– and it paid off.
When I first started this novel I was not struck by anything. The writing was clear and articulate. Nothing too stuffy. The characters feel gritty and real. And every chapter I said, “Eh. I guess I’ll read one more.” But slowly… I realized I wasn’t putting the book down. In fact, I read it straight through for 4 hours before I realized what I had done. It became clear that while I had no particularly strong feelings for any of the characters, I loved that they were real. Every character was flawed. Every character had vices and made mistakes. But they also had a relatable side. This really could have been happening to people. Remarkably, it didn’t even feel dated (though that should scare me).
The pacing also snowballed appropriately. In some books, I find that I’m suddenly in the action and reading much faster than I should be to catch up. But in this book, I felt comfortable taking my time. The characters weren’t going anywhere. The tension was high, yes. At any point, someone could die.
If you win this case, justice will prevail, but if you lose it, justice will also prevail. – Lucien Wilbanks
This novel was a thought-provoking reminder of racial tensions, prejudice, and cruelty. We are asked to question: Is it ever right to take the justice system in your own hand? What would you have done? Is the death penalty appropriate?
As I have never read another courtroom drama, I don’t have anything to compare it to. Sometimes, it felt a bit overly-verbose. That doesn’t change the fact that this was an emotional rollercoaster I didn’t realize I was riding until I was sucked in completely. I would definitely recommend this to others.