My first John Grisham novel was his latest release, The Whistler: a capable, if not entirely thrilling, read. Because I give every author two chances to ‘wow’ me, I decided to take a stab at Grisham’s debut, A Time to Kill.
Wow. Wow wow wow. Was I impressed!
Set in northeastern Mississippi (an area I’ve ridden through many times, and have a certain affection for), a young black girl is kidnapped and brutally raped by two white rednecks, both career criminals despite only being in their twenties. The two are caught and arrested, but that does not make the girl’s pain go away, of course — so her father takes matters into his own hands, and murders the two rapists in cold blood. Jake Brigance, a young lawyer who is desperate for the big time, takes the case despite its daunting nature. What unravels is something that thoroughly impacts the entire fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi, and the reader as well. There is no black or white here, only a world of gray; while most readers can sympathize with the girl’s father, was it right of him to murder the men? What is morally justifiable? What role does the court system play in our lives, and even when juries make the ‘right’ decision, is it still wrong? These are questions Grisham leads the reader to, never fully answering them but instead inspiring thought and meditation. I know I certainly look at the American justice system in a new light after reading this fabulous novel.
This was a journey that had me glued to the pages, and I would have read it much faster had life not intervened. I was shocked by how fleshed out the town of Clanton and its inhabitants really are, in the pages of this weighty story; Grisham is one who can tell a tale, and had that talent from the very beginning . . . as is evident here, in his debut novel. I was not sure what I wanted the final decision to be — guilty, not guilty, mistrial — because of all the twists and turns and new revelations that come to light during this volume’s 480-ish pages. That’s a good thing. The person who begins reading this novel and the person who finishes this novel aren’t the same, not completely; this is one with true potential to impact, all these years later. It really stands up.
John Grisham is one of America’s most popular authors, and I can now see why. I cannot wait to work my way through the rest of his releases, but I don’t know if any of them can top this one.