John Ray Grisham Jr. is an American novelist, attorney, politician, and activist, best known for his popular legal thrillers. His books have been translated into 42 languages and published worldwide. Grisham graduated from Mississippi State University and received a J.D. degree from the University Of Mississippi School Of Law in 1981. He practiced criminal law for about a decade and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from January 1984 to September 1990. His first novel, A Time to Kill, was published in June 1989, four years after he began writing it. As of 2012, his books have sold over 275 million copies worldwide. A Galaxy British Book Awards winner, Grisham is one of only three authors to sell two million copies on a first printing, the other two being Tom Clancy and J. K. Rowling.


This was Mississippi, where for years whites shot blacks for any reason or no reason and no one cared; where whites raped blacks and it was considered sport; where blacks were hanged for fighting back.

A Time To Kill is the story of a black man (Carl Lee), who is on trial for killing his daughter’s rapists – who were whites. It follows the life of the lawyer (Jake Brigance, also a white), who is trying to secure the man’s acquittal at a trial before a predominantly white jury.

The book has a simple and straightforward plot, with detailed character traits and personalities. The events, the situations, the verbal exchange, and the emotional states have all been described meticulously. Grisham carefully balances his characters so that we get to see both sides of each argument in the trial, particularly on vigilantism and capital punishment.

While there’s a lot of sympathy for Carl Lee, especially among the black townsfolk, there is also a sizeable slice of opinion that vigilantism, whatever the provocation, is wrong; and then there’s the minority of white supremacists, who think that Carl Lee should be lynched. Throughout the story, Grisham doesn’t paint anyone as a complete hero, and only a select few characters are portrayed as truly evil.

An excerpt from 'A Time to Kill' by John Grisham

Grisham builds on the lawyer’s initial skepticism of the racial tensions being an issue, then the dawning on him of the backlash that he and his family may have to endure if he continues to be involved in the case. The lawyer is only human, after all; he has a family to provide for and a job to do despite the difficulties it poses.

The author has acknowledged that such a heavy plot scheme needs some light humor in order to counterbalance the two diametrically opposite ideologies and arguments. For this, he ingeniously turns to the lawyer’s former mentor – a now disbarred lawyer with a sharp brain but a penchant for whiskey. He is a sidekick, in as much as he is a main character, without the downside of being involved in a head-to-head battle against a vociferous but influential minority.

Mr. Buckley, let me explain it this way. And I’ll do so very carefully and slowly so that even you will understand it. If I was the sheriff, I would not have arrested him. If I was on the grand jury, I would not have indicted him. If I was the judge, I would not try him. If I was the D.A., I would not prosecute him. If I was on the trial jury, I would vote to give him a key to the city, a plaque to hang on his wall, and I would send him home to his family. And, Mr. Buckley, if my daughter is ever raped, I hope I have the guts to do what he did.

However, the novel isn’t devoid of shortcomings. The most obvious one is its length, and although 515 pages ensure that no detail, however minute, goes unmentioned, they also make reading the book an arduous task. Secondly, the book has a few leads that start but either end haphazardly or do not end at all. Finally, even though it is difficult to come up with a legal thriller without using legal jargon, the book contains a lot of legal argot, which hinders a lucid reading experience.

Ameya Rating:

All in all, A Time to Kill is an ambitious, sprawling book that presents an unbiased take on racism, ethics, fatherhood, friendship, politics, gender and, of course, law and corruption. Scoring a 4 out of 5, it is well written, both politically and emotionally, and makes the reader question the racial bias that was rampant back in the day and the price that one may have to pay in their relentless pursuit of justice.

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