Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Time to Kill - John Grisham

I'm not usually a lover of the legal/criminal thriller, but over the years, John Grisham has captured my attention. I've usually become familiar with his stories through the movie adaptations of his work, but I've also begun to pick up his books on occasion. It started, though, with his book called A Painted House, which was NOT a legal thriller. I found it refreshing that he would leave the proven moneymaker formula that he'd cornered and branch out a bit. I also liked his book called Skipping Christmas, a nice comment on leaving commercialism and the rushed and fake nature of one up man ship that Christmas becomes in certain circles of society. The first legal thriller that I read was The Firm. That was good enough that I saw the movie when it was released. And then ... I left well enough alone for a long time.

A while back, I heard that Grisham would be releasing a new novel that picks up after A Time to Kill leaves off. Back comes the lawyer that was embroiled in the legal case that A Time to Kill brought to readers. Back comes the locale and the courthouse, the tension, the groups within Mississippi society that use the criminal case as a springboard for their own agendas, and the dark undercurrent of  'backstory'. My curiosity was piqued, but I'd not read his first blockbuster of a novel ... until now.

Let me say that vigilante justice is a scary proposition for me to consider. On page one, the book places the reader right smack dab in the center of a heinous act. A child is abducted, beaten, raped, and left for dead only to survive and suffer great psychological pain and irreparable physical harm. Her father, while calm and strong for his family, is so deeply traumatized by what has happened to his little girl that he snaps. He gets a gun and sets about killing these two drunken criminal thugs in a very public way.

Thus begins the domino effect that a sensational murder case will cause in this small rural county in Mississippi. Black leaders will galvanize the black community, white supremacists will drag the specter of the KKK back to the public eye, prosecution and defense lawyers will grovel for publicity to enhance their careers, local friends will be challenged to remain friendly with each other as they confront their biases, and a small tight-knit family will be thrown into the limelight under the worst of conditions. It's a tight story with a lot of threads and Grisham tells it well.

I was still left with uneasy feelings and questions about the discrepancies within the legal system where race is concerned, the ethics of lawyers and society's prejudices and passions for vigilantism. Perhaps that is precisely what Grisham aimed to leave his reader with ... boy, what a read!

Addendum- Sycamore Row , Grisham's new book, is currently sitting pretty at #1 on the New York Times best seller list ... ca ching, John!

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