Review: A Time to Kill by John Grisham

I first read this book in my teenage years. I must have been around 14 and had picked it up after racing through The Firm and The Pelican Brief. I remember loving all of them at the time. This year I’ve slowly been making my way through the audiobooks of John Grisham’s books and they don’t hold up too well either because it’s a reread or because I am more grown up.

AttK was the first book I remembered reading which described a rape. The other books I had read would maybe mention it in a throwaway sentence ‘character was raped’ or ‘he raped her’ or it was implied. This book straight from the first word dumps into a graphic and horrific rape scene. The rape isn’t the focus of the book, but a catalyst to the rest of the events and a key aspect of the trial. The book shocks and makes the reader uncomfortable throughout, such as the constant uses of the word ‘nigger’ and how naturally it’s used in conversation.

In the author notes, John Grisham says that he got the inspiration for the book – the first one printed with fewer than 10k copies – from a rape trial he read about and then wondered the effect the testimonial and trial would have on the family.

Carl Lee Hailey is an irresponsible vigilante murderer who should be sitting in jail for the rest of his life. He meticulously planned the murders over several days, driving a fair few miles to get a gun and staking out the exact route they’d take before hiding in a cupboard and jumping out to kill them and badly injure a deputy. He feels no remorse and instead – when thinking back to the crime – smiles to himself and is satisfied with the action he’s taken. I understand that it’s a very difficult situation and that he doesn’t want to put his daughter through the pain of a trial, however, as several characters in the book, such as the waitress, state, you can’t have people just picking up guns. He needs to be in jail.

He is also a not very nice man, from controlling his wife to shirking responsibilities, such as not telling his attorney that he’s got another one, to not really being that concerned with how his family realistically is meant to have money coming in. I could understand this kind of lack of foresight if this had been a spur of the moment attack, however, he planned it over days and fully knew the consequences.

Jake is also quite unlikable and incredibly arrogant. He pursues the case and sabotages several other attorneys, because he wants the fame and glory the case will bring though he’s not really that dedicated to it, what with getting drunk the night before jury selection and thinking himself over-prepared when in reality he barely did enough for it and only managed to blunder through due to the excellent free clerk and the many mistakes of the prosecution. His treatment of women from the secretary through to his own wife are disgusting. There aren’t really any redeeming features to him.

The plot moves sluggishly forward, a trying to create a slow build up to the Klan vs the African American inhabitants stoked by outside forces yet no one seems to do anything constructive about it! Yeah, sure, deep South small town and all that, but it’s ridiculous that the Klan can put up 20 crosses or access the sequestered jury or kidnap people or burn houses or whatever without anyone going ‘oh, we probably should bring in more security’. It feels about as unorganised as ‘The Client’.

3/5 – All this being said about the content of the book and the flawed characters, it is a captivating book and hard to put down.

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