A popular author’s first book: A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Believe it or not, I have never read a novel by John Grisham. I don’t tend to read ‘popular fiction’ so although I knew his name, I have never picked up any of his novels. I decided to give this one a try and I was pleasantly surprised. Although it was a modernized less-literary reboot of To Kill a Mockingbird, I still enjoyed the plot and definitely found myself on the edge of my seat over the outcome of the story.
That being said, this review contains some minor spoilers, so please avert thine eyes!
The story takes place in racially charged Mississippi. Two local rednecks get drunk and kidnap a Black ten year old girl as she is walking home. They beat her senseless, tie her to a tree, and take turns raping her. When they are finished torturing her, they attempt to lynch her, but luckily someone walks too close by, so they do not complete the task. Instead, they dump her in a ditch and leave her for dead. Tonya is practically dead, with her jaw and several other bones broken to the point that she is unrecognizable to her family. Luckily, she is found by townspeople and taken to emergency care, and after a few shaky days, she is out of critical condition. Her parents are devastated, and the Black community is outraged. They seek justice and worry that the crime will not be appropriately punished because the victim is a young Black girl and the perpetrators are two white men.
While the men are standing trial, Tonya’s father meticulously plans his retribution. After searching his soul, he realizes that the only way he can live with himself is to destroy the monsters who did this to his child. He waits in a closet as the prisoners are exiting the courtroom and at the precise moment, he opens fire. He guns down the two handcuffed prisoners and accidentally hits the deputy. After he is certain the prisoners are dead, he drops the gun and flees the scene.
He is identified almost immediately and taken into custody, and the entire country is now in an outrage. White people demand justice–he killed two helpless white men in cold blood. Black people are outraged–if a white man did this to Black men, the world would call him a hero for ridding society of such scum. The racially charged atmosphere ignites as the trial for his life begins.
Throughout the story, all of the legal twists and turns (which I imagine must be very fun for someone interested in law. For me, not so much), the emotional plot line, the overwhelming goodness in people despite facing terrible odds, all of these elements will keep you turning the pages as quickly as your fingers will let you. I truly did not know how the trial would end and had a physical reaction (i.e. outburst) at the outcome. While this is perhaps not the best written or most literary story I have ever read, I truly enjoyed walking a mile in Jake Brigance’s shoes. After all, isn’t that what Atticus instructed us to do in TKAM? (ha! Take that Grisham).