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A Time to Kill: A Novel (Jake Brigance Book 1 by John Grisham

Reviewed by Allen Hott

A really good read by Grisham. As usual it is in the south and again as usual it has legal ramifications. Jake Brigance is a young attorney in Ford County Mississippi and is struggling at the moment to make money. Unbeknownst to him at the time he is about to get a tremendously big case even if the income isn’t going to be too great.

It seems that two young very inebriated white guys (one who had already been imprisoned once) grab a little ten year old black girl and do some unspeakable things to her. Not only do they sexually attack her but they also beat her pretty badly and then after the horrible mutilation they threw her into a ravine and hurriedly drove away.

Tonya, the little girl, gets out of the ravine and with some help gets home to where she tells her Mom and Dad what happened. Once the sheriff hears what has happened he goes after Billy Ray Cobb who has been spouting off in the local bar about having raped a young “nigger”. Ozzie, the black sheriff, arrests both Billy Ray and Pete Willard who was Ray’s buddy that afternoon.
Ozzie took them to jail and there the real story begins.

Jake Brigance is looking hard for work and after hearing of the episode he gets with Carl Lee Hailey, Tonya’s dad, to offer to represent him against the two. But even in their discussions the feeling sticks out that Carl Lee wants more than to see the two go to prison. The two men are taken to the courthouse in the afternoon. They are bound over for trial with no bond and are being taken back to the jail by a deputy sheriff.

Suddenly springing out of a door and carrying an M16 rifle that he had illegally bought was Carl Lee Halley. Quite a few rounds are fired and Billy Ray along with Pete is dead on the ground. The accompanying deputy is wounded severely enough in the leg that he will later have to have it amputated. Off to the side stands Carl Lee waiting for Ozzie to come and take him off to jail.

From there Grisham then carries the story through problems with unrest in the town as both sides battle, at least verbally. And there is enough unrest among the Negro residents that a branch of the Klu Klux Klan arrives and keeps the excitement at high pitch. All of this is going on as Jake is doing his best in the trial to somehow get Carl Lee exonerated.

A very interesting part of the book is how the trial goes back and forth as Jake works, with much help, to prove that Carl Lee is insane and that for that reason he should not be tried for murder. Jake is seen as a major problem to the Klan and they burn down his house (luckily his wife and daughter had left earlier). The trial goes on and on with all sorts of experts testifying as to what constitutes insanity.

Grisham can really concoct stories and almost always bring legal nuances into the mix whether it be actual trials as this one is or just skirting the trials but giving the reader the legal possibilities. Quite a story and one to be read by all Grisham fans for sure.

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