Legal thrillers are a genre I’ve so far avoided taking up. Perhaps the closest I have come to reading one in the genre is reading the Perry Mason set of stories from Erle Stanley Gardner. Now those I particularly enjoyed. I’ve been often tempted to take up a Grisham novel when I see them staring at me from the library shelf, but somehow the interest had waned almost immediately. When Grisham’s Sycamore Row came to me for review, it mentioned it was the sequel to this book, which in turn is said to be one of his best ever books. I felt it would be good if I read this one first, to get an idea of the characters involved.
I don’t really get the need for a legal thriller to start with a graphic description of the crime in question. The rape scene of a ten year old girl, with description of her condition, the act itself, the mockery of her situation from the rapists and all that. I didn’t get that need, till the ending of the novel. Then I understood why it was done, atleast a little more. The detailed description of the rape makes a mark on your mind with its rawness, and it stays in your head till then, so at that crucial juncture later in the novel, when you read a paragraph that explains the turning point, you’ll find yourself agreeing that you would have, in the same situation, done the same as well.
I think Grisham deserves applause for this book, “A Time to Kill”, because for his first book, he has chosen to speak on a lot of controversial topics through his work. At the forefront of these topics is racism, because the victim Tonya is black, and the rapists are white. In a fictional town where racism runs riot (so to speak), this would cause a stir, and this drives a vengeful father Carl Lee kills his daughter’s assailants. This makes the case high-profile. Enter the protagonist, attorney Jake Brigance, a white lawyer but a friend of Carl Lee and his family. And the trial of Carl Lee takes center stage.
Is this a thriller? Yeah. Most definitely. The emotions of Carl Lee, the anxiety to understand those emotions, that of a father, and hope for his best, the actions of Jake Brigance and his loyalty to bring justice to the Bailey family with the eyes of the media and a tough prosecution all make it thrilling. If that wasn’t enough, Grisham adds the zing with the Ku Klux Clan becoming involved against Brigance and his cause. For Sherlock Holmes fans, the name would bring us immediately to the short story The Five Orange Pips.
For a debut novel, this is a great one by Grisham, and for my money, I feel it is deserving of the spotlight it has got over the years. Well fleshed characters, a good strong plot, lots of family drama and the thrill of a high profile court case, it has it all. It has the controversies like racism and political drama as well, and the graphicness of the act that brings about the case. As a reader, I’m drawn into the emotions of each character, and that makes this novel successful. Oh. And a mention for Wanda Womack’s character too. On the flipside, I feel the book had more descriptions of the crime and the emotions than the case itself. The book is a long one, and at times you do feel like putting it down. And I’m still undecided about the graphic scene at the beginning.
Kudos, Mr. Grisham!
In A Gist:
Positives: Well fleshed characters, excellent narration and drama, controversial topics involved.
Negatives: More of outside-the-courthouse action, and lengthy book.
About the author:
John Grisham is an American author, lawyer, and politician. Till 2008, he had sold more than 250 million copies of his works. His books have been published all over the world in 29 languages. Also, he is one of the three authors in the world who have sold two million copies of a first print.
Title: A Time to Kill
Series: Jake Brigance #1
Author: John Grisham
Genre: Legal Thriller
Publisher: Random House
Price: INR. 299
(7th January, 2014)