A Time to Kill by John Grisham

An eye for an eye…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

a time to killTonight around 1 a.m., Grisham’s new book Sycamore Row will appear on my Kindle as if by magic. (Somewhat annoyingly, so will Donna Tartt’s new one, The Goldfinch, but Grisham will get priority.) In it, he revisits the people of Ford County who appeared in his first book A Time to Kill all of 24 years ago in 1989. I couldn’t remember if I’d read it, and even if I had, the plot had faded completely from my mind, so a refresher seemed in order. As it turns out, I haven’t read it before, though I’ve certainly seen the film.

The story begins with the horrific gang-rape and beating of a young black girl by two white men. The two men are quickly arrested and there is no doubt about their guilt. However, Carl Lee Hailey, the father of young Tonya, is not ready to let justice take its course and sets out to take his own revenge. When he is in turn arrested and charged with murder, he asks Jake Brigance to defend him. While there’s a lot of sympathy for Carl Lee, especially amongst the black townsfolk, there is also a sizeable slice of opinion that vigilantism, whatever the provocation, is wrong; and then there’s the minority of white racists who think Carl Lee should be lynched. Soon the town is plunged into fear as the Ku Klux Klan take the opportunity to resurrect the days of burning crosses and worse.

burning cross

Grisham doesn’t give any easy answers and doesn’t paint anyone as a complete hero (and only the rapists and the KKK are seen as wholly villainous). There’s a huge cast of characters and we get to know their flaws as much as their strengths; and it’s an indication of Grisham’s skill that we can still like so many of them even when we are bound to disagree with most of them at least some of the time, whatever our own views. As the case proceeds and conviction looks increasingly likely, Jake has to decide how far he can stretch his fairly elastic ethics. And he also has to consider whether it’s worth the danger that he’s inadvertently brought on his family, employees and himself.

In the foreword, Grisham tells us that the book didn’t have much impact when it was first published but that over the years it has grown in popularity. I can understand both of those things. Firstly, it’s an enormous brick of a book, the first chapter is a graphic and shocking description of the gang-rape and, being based in the South and with racism as a major theme, the use of the n-word is liberal from the beginning and throughout. If it was my first introduction to Grisham, I’m not sure I’d have gone past the first few chapters. However, it is Grisham, and so I read on…and how glad I am that I did!

John Grisham
John Grisham

This is an ambitious, sprawling book that looks at racism, ethics, fatherhood, friendship, politics, gender and, of course, corruption and the law. As always with Grisham, the writing is flowing, the plot is absorbing, the characterisation is in-depth and believable and there’s plenty of humour to leaven the grim storyline. The sheer length of the book gives Grisham plenty of room to explore his themes thoroughly and he carefully balances his characters so that we get to see both sides of each argument, particularly on vigilantism and capital punishment. Grisham doesn’t peddle his own views – he lets his characters argue each side effectively and so the reader is left to decide. Grisham says that often people he meets tell him this is their favourite of all his books – if I ever meet him, I think I’ll be telling him that too. Now I can only hope that Sycamore Row lives up to the standard Grisham has set himself…

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56 thoughts on “A Time to Kill by John Grisham

  1. FictionFan – In my opinion, this is one of Grisham’s really fine books. The legal issues are complex and the moral ones even more so, and Grisham explores them in a fine-tuned way. It is as you say a sprawling novel but in my opinion it stays right on course and doesn’t meander. So glad you gave this one five smileys. Here’s a sixth: 🙂


    • Yes, Grisham can be variable but this one’s great – when he’s on top form he’s the equal of anyone and better than most. Can’t wait for ‘Sycamore Row’ now…


  2. Oh! My dad loves John Grisham books. I didn’t know he had a new one coming out! Hmm…I’ll have to get that for him for Christmas…
    This sounds like a powerful book. I will have to ask Dad if he’s read this one…
    Nice review!


  3. Seems like a beastly book, for sure. Had to look up The Goldfinch. SK seems to like the author.

    The book might be an interest. You know, the professor likes vigilantes. You know, the professor is a vigilante.


    • I’m looking forward to The Goldfinch too, but Grisham pretty much always takes priority for me (except for his silly books about rounders…oops! I mean baseball). SK likes The Goldfinch? How odd – and intriguing…

      The Professor is quite right to be a vigilante – those dadblamed Giant Worms don’t deserve a fair trial…!!


      • The professor did not know that you were that big of a Grisham fan! Ever read the Street Lawyer?

        I will make you enjoy baseball one day. Even if I have to take you to a game. (Root for the Red Sox.)

        Ha, yes! But there’s more to go after than worms… Why….


        • I used to be, then I wasn’t for a while, and now I am again. Not all his books are great, but when they are, they are. I think so – that’s the one about the Vietnam vet isn’t it? (I don’t remember books very well – hence why I now review them.)

          Ooh, I’d quite like to go to a game! But, like on the rare occasion I’m dragged to watch football (proper British football that is), I’d end up watching the crowd more than the game. The Red Sox? I thought you were a NE Patriot or something?

          Go on – tell us more…


          • That could be a poem, I think. The professor really doesn’t remember. All I do remember is that someone’s CSF was blasted about the room–definitely a thing the professor would remember.

            Well, the crowd is always interesting. I like watching people too. (Baseball games are very gentlemanly, btw.) You’d enjoy a baseball game, though. Much better than soccer.

            I am. You see, the Patriots are Boston’s football team; the Red Sox are their baseball team. It’s funny that the professor is a fan since he doesn’t live in Boston.

            Simply, the professor is a gunslinger.


            • We could have a great conversation about The Street Lawyer, then, if only either of us could remember it… 😉

              A gentlemanly crowd wouldn’t be as much fun to watch as a rowdy one though. Football matches are a great place to pick up new cuss-words. But I may – may – try to watch a baseball game sometime if the Red Sox ever turn up on any channel over here.

              Oh, I see – all these silly games seem pretty much alike to me – but football – that’s the one where they don’t use their feet, isn’t it? Very funny…and most intriguing…the Professor is truly a man of mystery!

              I think we need to know more – a blather may be required….


            • Haha. We must have this conversation some time.

              It’s un-lady like to cuss, you know. Only the men are allowed to say dadblameit.

              Good! But if the professor was there, you’d enjoy it more. I’d explain all the humdingers to you.

              Doesn’t every sport require the use of feet? CJ is one of the fastest men in the NFL.

              It’s odd, I know. But I can’t really explain it.

              No. It might be…unsafe for the kids.


            • I’ll dadblamed cuss if I dadblamed want to, dadblameit! Feminists all over the world have fought for a century for my right to say dadblameit, dadblameit!!

              I would, I’m sure. And certainly it would be helpful to know when a humdinger was happening – I’d hate to miss it…

              😆 Well, yes, I suppose so…but I was thinking more of the fact that they pick the ball up and carry it, which in real football is cheating… Who?

              Can’t? Won’t? Shan’t? Wicked C-W-W!

              So now I have to add in the image of a pair of Colt 45s to the katana-wielding, knife-throwing, vigilante Professor? I’m beginning to feel quite sorry for those worms…


            • But feminists haven’t fought over the right to use professorish cuss words, have they? 😆

              In soccer, they don’t use their hands which is an interest. He’s a RB for the Titans.

              Well, I’m not really sure for the reason myself. Where the professor is, though, the Patriots are hated vehemently. So, I’m constantly fearing for my life.

              But I think the professor is peaceful at heart.


            • Ooh, yes! In the Great Feminist Riots of 1912, they were all carrying placards saying ‘Votes for Women< Maburnit! (plus the Dadblamed Right to Cuss in a Professorish Way!)' – it's in all the history books…

              Yes, that's why soccer is called football! I see…

              (I suspect the reason is to tease poor FF – which is mean…) Fear not – Bob will protect you!

              But do the worms think that?


            • Haha! The professor was famous, then! I told you I was timeless. 😀

              American football developed from Rugby Football, I believe, or something like that.

              Not at all! It’s unprecedented. Some of the professorish friends were shocked when I announced that I was a Patriot fan. I think it had to do with the fact that they are amazing. And then I like a lot of the players.

              Worms are evil as are their thoughts. No mercy shall be shown them.


            • Apparently the war-cry of the Scots at the Battle of Stirling Bridge was ‘Och! Lets beat the dadblamed English with their own femurs!’

              Yes, that’s right! But the Americans added shoulder pads…

              Hmm… No, you might persuade me to watch baseball – maybe – but NOT American ‘foot’ball. I have my standards… 😉

              Thank goodness we can all relax in the knowledge that the Professor is out there protecting us…


            • Apart from the shoulder pads, the very strange trousers, the white lines on the faces, the crash helmets and the dadblamed silly rules, nothing really…


            • They’re so ’80s, and these boys just don’t have the figure to carry off the Joan Collins look. Am I? Black – of course, so sorry! I forgot it was war paint rather than sun screen. Well, I admit I may not have grasped all of the finer points, but basically it’s just a lot of men in shoulder pads shoving each other around, isn’t it…?


            • What’s wrong with the 80’s? Did Joan Collins where should pads? *gulp* Sun screen is evil stuff.

              Yes, you are–very.

              Well…it’s a little better than that. Like when T. Brady throws a bomb down the field, or a receiver leaps into the air… The professor shall win you over. You’ll see.


            • They were so last millenium…Yes she did – and very frightening it was too!

              Well…thank you…

              I admit throwing a bomb would liven up most sports, but I don’t know if I’d like a front-row seat! Leaping into the air, eh? Gosh! That does sound exciting… 😉


            • I suppose you’d think Asia was then, too. Not very timeless of you, you know.

              It’s a compliment, don’t worry! 😆

              Oh, never go to a dadblame game! Much better to watch from home.


            • Asia? Doesn’t it still exist, then? (Note to self: pay more attention to world events…)

              Then thank you! 😀

              The BBC news channel had a little item last night about baseball (I take it there’s a big game or something coming up? Go Sox!!) where they explained all the rules to us Brits. When they returned to the anchorwoman, she raised one supercilious eyebrow and said ‘Looks like rounders to me!’ How I chuckled! 😆


            • Funny, but the professor shan’t laugh!

              I’m really not sure what rounders is. Yes, the first game of the World Series is today. (Thanks for rooting for them! 🙂 )

              Yes, probably laughing the professor to scorn.


            • The professor would be jealous too of such a great nation… 😉

              I must agree. They are funny–if you stop and think about it. I think we should just bring back the gladiator games and all that circus racing and fun stuff.


  4. Glad you enjoyed this – I’ve never read a Grisham (is this a record?), but this one sounds interesting.
    However in the current state of the TBR pile, and the fact that I am re-reading HP, as well as my usual Zelazny, for Halloween I don’t think I’ll get to it any time soon.


    • It must be some kind of record…and goes someway to explaining why you have time to read all these other books! 😉

      Does Zelazny do creepy, then? He’s an author I’ve never read.


    • Generally no, but he wrote one book called ” A night in the lonesome October” which has 31 chapters culminating on Halloween, so I always read a chapter a day in October. You probably wouldn’t like his usual stuff (fantasy), but you might like this one – Victorian pastiche, including Holmes and Watson, Dracula, Frankenstein (plus monster), et al.


    • It seemed familiar to me once I got into the book, but I realised it was that I’d seen the film – I kept getting flashes of scenes. But if you haven’t read it, I really recommend it – one of Grisham’s very best, I think. 🙂


  5. I’m overwhelmed by Grisham sometimes because he’s so prolific that I don’t know where to start. Whenever I pick up one of his books, though, I can barely put it down. This one sounds very good…and you’ve reviewed it brilliantly. It’s enough to pique my interest without making me feel like I know what’s coming next. 🙂


    • I know the feeling! And because they’re mainly standalones, I often find it quite hard to remember which ones I’ve read – a lot of blurb-reading is required. Thank you for the lovely compliment! 😀

      Just started Sycamore Row and it’s looking good…


      • Blogging really helps with keeping track of which book was which, doesn’t it? I’ve often looked at a cover and thought, “I know I read you, and I know I liked you, but I can’t for the life of me remember why!” Now I can. 🙂


        • That’s mainly why I started reviewing. My memory’s shocking, especially for books, and quite often I couldn’t remember if I’d read something or not. Writing about it makes it stick in my mind better and also gives me a way to check back to see what I thought. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a book and then thinking – oh, that’s right, I remember now – I really hated this author! 😉


          • This is terrible, but once or twice I’ve actually picked up a book I’d already read and didn’t notice it until 25+ pages in. It’s funny how some books stick around in my brain so much better than others.


  6. I really liked A Time to Kill (and the movie too), but it does feel very different than the next few books which Grisham wrote according to some sort of “write a bestseller/thriller” book. Man chased by mob, woman chased by mob, child chased by mob: it got a bit old, but I think I’d like his books now that he’s not churning them out so quickly.


    • Yes, I went off him for a few years in the middle, and even now I find him variable. But when he’s good, he’s great, so he still makes it onto my must-read list. So far Sycamore Row’s looking good… 🙂


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