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A Time to Kill

Posted on: September 19, 2013

a_time_to_killName : A Time to Kill

Author: John Grisham

Genre : Legal thriller

Pages : 500+

Publication Year: 1989

Is Review Spoiler: No

Movies based on book: A Time to Kill (film)

Rating: 5/5


A Time to Kill is the first novel by acclaimed author John Grisham published in 1989 and instantly became a masterpiece in legal thriller genre. A Time to Kill takes place in Clanton, Mississippi and revolves around Carl Lee Hailey, Black, father of four children, three males and one 10-year-old female child named Tonya Hailey.

One dreadful day while returning from the grocery store, Tonya was abducted by two racist white ‘rednecks’ named Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis Willard. They brutally rape and beat Tonya and dump her in a nearby river after a failed attempt to hang her. She is rescued by fishers and survives.  Both the rapist are arrested.

Both men now indicted in rape and attempt to murder of Tonya but Carl Lee fearing all jury members will be white and acquitting – he kills both the accused using a M-16 machine gun by executing a well thought out plan.

Carl Lee is charged with capital murder. Despite efforts to persuade Carl Lee to retain high-powered attorneys, he elects to be represented by his friend, white attorney Jake Brigance. Jake Brigance who once acquitted Car Lee’s brother Lester in a capital murder case in Clanton.

The book is set in fictional town named Clanton, Missisipi. Clanton is the mixture of both blacks and whites but city has 76% of whites whereas blacks consists only 26% of total cities population. The marrow-deep racism still exists in Clanton and white people getting acquitted in criminal cases compared to blacks are very common in Clanton as majority of jury(or most of the time all jury) member are white.

This case of Carl Lee becomes a national sensation and every lawyer in the country wants to take this case for free. The quiet looking Clanton city is now filled with reporters and strangers. And to make things more complicated to defense lawyer Jake Brigance, the long forgotten and believed to be lost hundreds of years ago – Ku Klux Klan comes back to life in Clanton. The marrow-deep racism and presence of Klan members are handled pretty well in this book. The brutal attacks of the Ku Klux Klan on those who directly or indirectly involved in the defense of Car Lee Hailey puts them on par with the rapists.

All the characters in this book are well thought and well-developed, specially the Jake’s character. You can feel the tension mounting up as the trial date comes near and near. Though trial of Car Lee won’t take place until the climax of the book. But the events which happens in Clanton before Car Lee trial either the coming Ku Klux Klan or NAACP lawyers who want to take the case from Jake are handled really well.

Dialogues are well crafted and is crackling, specially dialogues between Jake and Roark. How the rape and aftermath of the murders effect the folks of the city both white and black is handled well. The psychological effect of rape on victim and victims family is handled well. It’s really heart-braking when doctor tell Tonya’s mother that Tonya will not have any child in the future.

The way the legal system works in criminal cases and how people try to twist these systems either by purchasing one of the jury member to result in hang jury or by choosing all white jury or by presenting false witness or by using insanity defense to defend the victim very well handled and described in such way that even a novice to law can understand it pretty well.

This book is well written and at times hard to follow as it has more description than dialogues but once you start reading – it’s really hard to put this book down.

A sequel named ‘The Sycamore Row‘ will be released next month written after 25 years of publication of A Time To Kill. Can’t wait to read it.

A Time To Kill is highly recommended for anyone who want’s to read a good thriller.

1 Response to "A Time to Kill"

[…] Row is a sequel to a best selling novel ‘A Time to Kill‘ from acclaimed author ‘John Grisham’ . A Time to Kill was the first novel from […]

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