A Time for Mercy (Jake Brigance #3), by John Grisham

Nine stars

For those who read and enjoyed Grisham’s A Time to Kill, this will be a wonderful legal thriller that returns to that small Mississippi community that still talks about the lawyer who was able to orchestrate the biggest surprise ever. Grisham presents a fairly cut and dry case, but one that is full of twists, as a teenage boy is put on trial for murder, with capital punishment awaiting him. Intriguing and entertaining throughout, Grisham shows that he still has a penchant for wonderful legal thrillers when he puts his mind to it. Recommended to those who love this sort of small-town legal style.

Drew Gamble could not handle the constant feeling of fear that pervaded his house. His mother had decided to live with a well-respected sheriff’s deputy in town, but that man turned sour and highly abusive when he returned home. Fists would fly, fuelled by alcohol, and bodies would be strewn around the house, begging for mercy. During one particular beating, Drew’s mother was left in a pile, presumably dead. Drew had reached his limit and decided to end the terror, knowing that he had no one left. Taking a gun, Drew shot his mother’s boyfriend, killing him. What he did not know was that his mother did not die, thereby negating his pleas of murder in self-defence.

Jake Brigance is still working in Clayton, Mississippi, 5 years after the town’s most sensational murder case that saw a Black man acquitted of murder. After he is cajoled to help with the Gamble case, Brigance agrees to help things through the early stages only. This case does not centre on race, which is known to divide the county quite significantly. Drew Gamble is sixteen, but his physical and mental capacity of a much younger child. His murder of an esteemed police officer will surely cause grief, which is only exacerbated when the prosecution pushes for the death penalty in a bold act on their part.

Jake begins building a defence, even as Drew has admitted to the crime. He tries to find enough loopholes to show the jury that this was not a boy acting in malice, but out of fear for his life. However, Brigance must also fight the urge to send this boy to death for his actions, but that will require experts and a passion that exceeds the usual courtroom antics for which he has become known. Brigance is not rich by any means, with a practice hanging by a string. However, he has a family to support him and those in the office with their own gems to offer. Determined to find a way to free Drew Gamble of this nightmare, Brigance might have a trump card to spook the prosecution and turn the case on its head. However, he will have to pace himself and keep his surprise witness far from the eyes of the people of Clanton.

I loved returning to Clanton, Mississippi and to the streets where Jake Brigance has made a name for himself. I found myself able to picture it as I read, wondering how it would be presented on the silver screen. The case gets to the core of something controversial and forces the reader to take sides, where the evidence is stacked all to one side, but compassion stands resolutely on the other side.

Jake Brigance is a masterful protagonist in this novel, choosing to reach out and stirring up emotion throughout the novel. The reader can see that he is passionate about his work, but is solely outmatched when it come to the law. With an office of blooming and well-past faced legal minds, Brigance will have to rely on their intuition to help him. There is some wonderful character development in this piece, showing the rawness and weaknesses of his personality, which only adds to the depth he shows. With strong ties to his family, Brigance is also loving and shows this throughout, wanting to make sure his family is not put in danger once again.

The strong collection of secondary characters surely help shape the novel. It is they who inject the needed emotion into the piece, pushing the reader to draw on a variety of insights to formulate their opinions about the case. From the shy and naive Drew to the passionate prosecutor who is out for blood to serve his own needs, the story see-saws between these character types to present a story that will have the reader wondering which side they might choose.

While A Time for Mercy kept me riveted because of the focus on race, this was an equally powerful piece, though it looks to self-defence and execution of a minor as its threads of legal disputes. Grisham has been able to craft a powerful story that reads like no legal thriller I have found for a long time. With the story is strong and the characters add a flavour to the piece that only Grisham could bring. I found the issues, both legal and personal, to be on point and just to my liking. Grisham pulls no punches in this page-turner, exciting the reader with a mix of chapter lengths as the story gains momentum throughout. A strong story and well-paced plot kept me reading in hopes of finishing with a sense of vindication. What Grisham offered did that, while offering some twists and turns throughout, all of which left me wanting more. I can only hope there is another Jake Brigance book on Grisham’s radar, as there’s nothing like small town Mississippi to bring out the legal dualities America (and the world) faces.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another legal winner. I cannot say enough about this piece, full of grit and David vs. Goliath moments. This is the John Grisham I grew up reading!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Camino Winds (Camino Island #2), by John Grisham

Eight stars

John Grisham returns with another adventure on Camino Island, a small community in Florida. It’s been three years since readers have poked their heads around and much is going on. Bookstore owner Bruce Cable is waiting for his next bestsellers to arrive, as his small shop seems to be one of the premier places for authors to come and ensure they are successful. However, Hurricane Leo is approaching the island, expected to make landfall in the next few days. While it shakes the community and causes some damage, those who stick around soon realise that they will be able to pick up and pieces and keep living. When Bruce and a friend go in search of fellow author, Nelson Kerr, they find him dead in his home, though it does not look as though Leo is the cause of death. Kerr’s head wounds, as well as the sighting of a mysterious woman leads Bruce to feel that his friend must have been murdered, but there’s no clear understanding as to why. While the local and state police take their time, Bruce seeks some outside assistance is determining what’s been going on, hiring a private firm in DC. When Kerr’s latest manuscript turns up, it hints at why someone may have wanted to keep him quiet, as the premise of this work of fiction surrounds a magical drug being administered to certain residents of care facilities. Meanwhile, someone has been approaching employees of these facilities and asking for the dirt around procedures and policies. Could there be a massive scam taking place, one that Nelson Kerr uncovered and was ready to reveal to the world in his writing? Grisham does well with this more mystery-based novel that allows the focus to turn away from legal tactics and lawyer fees. A refreshing book and even better than the series debut. Recommended to those who love a good mystery, as well as the reader who is a fan of Grisham and his various story types.

I remember not being overly impressed with the first novel in this series three years ago. Perhaps I was too stuck in my ways of Grisham being a legal thriller writer and struggled with this less than clearcut novel. However, it would seem that Grisham heard his fans and has honed his skills to focus more on the mystery and less the romantic side of the plot. Bruce Cable is again in a main role and does well throughout, keeping his witticisms strong and his search for the truth on point. Grisham does not lose any momentum with this character, as the man turns from bookseller and playboy to a serious crime fighter and one who will do anything for his friends. Other characters help push the story along, less in a smarmy and saccharine manner, adding elements to the mystery and the overall conspiracy that keeps the reader wanting to know a little more. The story is on point and while it is not as legal as one might expect with a Grisham piece, it has great development and kept me pushing forward. With ten chapters that are broken down into smaller parts, the reader is able to digest as much or as little as they want at any given time. I’d read a third in the series, since I feel Grisham has a better handle on things now. That said, I love a good legal thriller and do not want Grisham to leave that behind.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for a nice offshoot to your usual fare. I am happy to take this journey off the beaten path and hope others were as entertained.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Guardians, by John Grisham

Eight stars

In John Grisham’s latest novel, the reader is taken back to the Deep South and into another interesting realm of the legal world; post-conviction appeals. The novel explores the particulars of death row inmates who feel that their innocence has been ignored as the system chewed them up and spat them out. Enter Guardian Ministries, headed up by Cullen Post. A former public defender, Post burnt out from the workload and became an Episcopal priest, after which he used his two vocations in tandem. Post has a bare bones staff in Savannah, Georgia, and six active files that require his help. After standing with one of his clients and being mere hours from an execution, Post is revved up to fight the good fight for any of his clients who might need him. When Quincy Miller writes to Guardian Ministries, the team cannot help but want to help. Accused of the murder of his lawyer, Keith Russo, Miller has sat in jail without a lawyer or advocate for over two decades. A black man in a small Florida community of Seabrook, Miller could not expect justice to find him. Now, with the odds stacked against him, Cullen Post will do all he can. Revisiting witnesses who may have perjured themselves and a prosecutor who sought blood, Post finds new hope for a man who had all but given up. However, there is a killer out there, someone who is surely not keen on having the truth of the Keith Russo murder uncovered. Someone who will stop at nothing to silence Quincy Miller at any cost, even if they use the State of Florida to do it for them. A thought-provoking piece that shows the power of Grisham’s abilities. Recommended to those who love Grisham’s ‘little guy’ legal thrillers, as well as the reader who seeks a well-paced novel about the law and all its flaws.

I’ve seen many people land on both sides of the fence with this one, some loving the latest Grisham thriller, while others call it cliché and blame it on the author’s writing longevity. Both have their points, but I cannot help but seeing what I did and judging it accordingly. The story may not be anything new, but the players and the details are fresh and offer up an insightful look into the legal system and how the scales are not always balanced. Cullen Post serves the role of protagonist well, though he wants no praise for his work. Rather, he seeks answers for his clients, all of whom have reached the end of their proverbial ropes. Post knows the system and how many have been left to languish in prisons until a shiny needle is inserted in their arms, but his compassionate side will not stop him working hard. Able to squeeze his way in to see people with his priestly collar, Post does all he can the entire justice sees the light of day, or at least fight until the bitter end. His backstory is clearly defined in the early chapters and his growth throughout will surely make him a character with whom the reader will have no trouble connecting, given the chance. Others make their imprint on the story and will touch the reader’s heart—should they let it out as they read—with Grisham’s great ability to personalise those who appear on the page. The story creeps along but is also tangentially exciting with all those who play a role in the various plots. The piece itself is one of hope where little exists and exoneration where the game is already determined. Grisham pushes the ‘little guy’ throughout, revealing much about the legal system that does not make the news. Things will not change because of this book, but perhaps a few readers will better understand that which is left to be forgotten and think twice about the law’s ugly underbelly. With a mix of shorter and lengthy chapters, Grisham pulls the reader in from the outset and allows them to see what innocence looks like, even if it is not glamorous.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another winning piece. Some may call it repetitive, but perhaps they are the people who wish to keep their heads in the clouds, or buried deep in the sand.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Accomplice (Theodore Boone #7), by John Grisham

Eight stars

John Grisham is back with some of his lighter legal work with another instalment of the Theodore ‘Theo’ Boone series. Th has been a stalwart in his community, fighting for justice—for both human and animal—and keeping an ear to the ground for tidbits of new legal concepts to shape his future. As Theo is attending middle school, his worries for one of his classmates mount. Woody Lambert comes from a fairly disconnected family, one in which everyone is forced to fend for themselves. When Woody and his older brother are caught up in an armed robbery, having been waiting in the vehicle for the ringleader without knowing what was going down, they are tossed into the slammer and subjected to a great deal of hurt. Theo cannot stand to see Woody go through this, blindly believing that he must be innocent and caught in the web of legal bullying. He works with friends and family to raise enough to set Woody free on bail, but is baffled to see how arcane some of the practices of law can be when it comes to incarceration. Armed with a passion for justice, Theo uses his legal knowledge and persuasive attitude to get the wheels of justice turning as best he can. When not trying to get Woody some justice, Theo is in Animal Court dealing with a rabbit that has apparently been drumming up some nocturnal trouble. As both cases progress, Theo learns a little more and does his best to ensure justice is served, even if the law is riddled with holes! Another wonderful piece that shows Grisham is able to convey the law for readers of all ages. Recommended to those who love Grisham’s work as well as the younger reader (or young at heart) who enjoy his lighter legal series.

I have found that few authors can work both the Young Adult and mainstream adult audiences with their work. Grisham is able to bridge the gap effectively, entertaining and passing along some interesting concepts about the law. He works through this lighter fare with the legal keener, Theo Boone, who may only be thirteen, but is always eager to learn. Theo is surrounded by lawyers in his family, but is always learning a little more about legal conundrums when it comes to major and minor matters around town. Grisham allows his protagonist to fill the page with wonderful advancement and shows just a little more in each piece. Theo’s passion to help others rings through the narrative yet again, as does his bafflement at yet another aspect of the law. Other regulars in the series make their mark here, while newbies shape the main plot with some interesting flavouring. Never a ‘deep read’, Grisham makes a wonderful case with the plot of this book, able to entertain readers of all ages with a case that is sure to keep the reader wondering. A mix of short and longer chapters with a plausible plot and legal situations, Grisham will have no trouble drawing fans into the middle of the courtroom drama and plight of the accused. I always look for Theo Boone books to lighten my reading load and have not been disappointed with this one!

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another classic pared-down legal thriller. You kept my attention and I know these are likelier easier to create, but they pack as much punch as some of your other and more complicated works! Keep them coming, as I know there are numerous fans who enjoy each publication.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Reckoning, by John Grisham

Eight stars

John Grisham continues his long-running string of novels with another piece that offers some unique legal discussions. Pete Banning is a well-respected white farmer, a war hero, and an all-around amiable man around Clanton, Mississippi in 1946. This is why it is so troubling when Banning walks into the office of black Methodist minister Dexter Bell and shoots him dead. Banning refuses to elude the authorities and will not speak about the crime. Going through the motions of a trial, but choosing not to offer a formidable defence, Banning is found guilty and sentenced to death. After a few delays, Pete Banning’s day with the electric chair is set. Banning is executed while his adult children and some other family are left with more questions than answers. After a thorough flashback depicting Pete Banning’s life and time in the Pacific arena during World War II, it is back to the late 1940s, where Joel Banning is trying to hold down the fort as the new man of the household. His mother, Liza, has been in an institution since before Pete’s death, another mystery that no one can answer. With wrongful death suits circling around the estate, Joel juggles his legal studies with trying to dig a little deeper to understand why Pete Banning might have felt the need to kill Dexter Bell. There are some loose ends that do not make much sense, but the Bell family remains focussed on punitive damages. With everything up in the air, Joel Banning watches all he has known circle the drain in a family mystery that no one seems able to decipher. Another great Grisham piece that develops slowly and will take a dedicated reader to finish. Recommended for fans of Grisham’s ‘southern legal matters’, though it is apparent that the novel has significant filler sections to pad its length.

I have long been a fan of John Grisham’s work, which approaches the law and courtroom matters from unique perspectives, investing the responsibility in the reader to piece the larger narrative together. That being said, some of his latter work seems to stuff a great deal of information that dilutes the legal arguments with too much backstory. Pete Banning plays a key role throughout the novel, with his development arising through significant backstory recounting in the middle portion of the book. Leaving his family to wonder what happened to fuel his need to commit capital murder, Banning’s life story comes to life when he is a POW in the Philippines, where Grisham offers a detailed narrative that keeps the reader enthralled. The latter portion of the novel shifts much of the focus on Joel Banning, legal mind and amateur sleuth. Trying to piece the great family mystery together, Joel seeks to turn over many stones to see what might slither out. The numerous other characters offer some interesting 1940s South flavour to the story, particularly the legal matters that address how a white man can be charged and fond guilty of killing a black man in Mississippi. Grisham is keen on stand-alone novels, though there are usually some interesting stereotypes that emerge throughout. The story in this piece is strong, depicting both the legal issues around race and murder, as well as estates and wrongful death suits. Most interesting of all is trying to determine what might have led Pete Banning to commit the ultimate crime and toss his family into significant distress, which comes together in the final chapter. I will admit that the middle section of the book, that exploring the time Banning spent in the war, presumed death and being tortured, seemed to be a great deal of drawn out character depiction and backstory. Some have bemoaned its presence in the novel, though I simply wonder if it could have been curtailed to a refined few chapters. While I choose not to spoil this for anyone, that backstory portion does not play into the foundational arguments for the murder he committed. I found the writing to be quite captivating as I pushed through the story in short order. Another Grisham success for those with patience!

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for entertaining the reader from the outset. This is a story that will keep the reader thinking throughout as they become enthralled with the detailed writing. I cannot wait for the next piece you have planned.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

Seven stars

John Grisham is back with yet another new take on the legal profession, shining lights where there has only been darkness, while entertaining readers in equal measure. Law school is a tough beast that only the fittest can survive. However, when Mark, Todd, and Zola arrived, they felt that their determination would help them sail through. Perusing the land into their last semester, all they can see are mountains of debt and a soon-to-be useless diploma from Foggy Bottom Law School, one of the lesser (lowest?) schools, located in the DC area. Armed with few paths to success and crippling financial ruin, they try to find an out. A fourth musketeer shines light on a potential grand scam, but has not taken the initiative to act on it. Tragic circumstances force Mark, Todd, and Zola to rethink their futures and the wheels begin to turn. Seeing hucksters on every corner, the three agree to create their own law firm and run it, without completing school or holding valid licenses. As long as they can stay one step ahead of the process, nothing can go wrong, right? Listing their firm out of the top floors of a bar, the three begin perusing the vulnerable at hospitals and in the courthouse. It takes guts, but there may be some return, as long as no one catches on. When a few larger cases get caught in their flimsy net, it’s time to weight the options between being caught and a massive payout. Greed trumps sense most times, but all three soon learn that legal matters can be as fragile as spun glass and lives are irreparably changed with one false move. As the cock crows on their legal (and personal) futures, The Rooster Bar may not be as fortuitous as they once hoped. Financial ruin may be the least of their worries, should all those who want their pound of flesh succeed in filing legal grievances. Grisham does a masterful job of painting an interesting legal picture while pulling on the heart strings of the reader. Fans of his work will like this one, as another one-off analyzes the wonders of the legal world, pitfalls and all.

While some feel the need to take Grisham with a grain of salt, I like his varied approaches to the legal profession and feel that he has a firm grasp on many aspects that are forgotten in the genre. Grisham’s unique approach is what makes me come back for more, though the characters and story found herein are also quite entertaining. It is a wonderful collection of personalities that make the story all the more exciting. Three core law students who are trying to dodge their creditors and attempt to see above all that is crippling them helps lay the groundwork for the great bamboozling that is this novel. Varied in their backstories, Mark, Todd, and Zola all bring a strong core belief system to the story. The past they bring helps to individualise them, as well as injects some humour into what can sometimes be a string of serious aspects. Touching not only on the law, but on the struggles of students, Grisham does not candy-coat anything and wants only to offer the reader some insight into how horrid law school can be beneath the surface, when it comes to loans and repayment. The collection of other characters remain stellar, as Grisham brings even more to the table and forces the reader to go through all the ups and downs that accompany Russian Roulette legal practice. The story itself is intriguing, even if it does not tap into the core of legal conundrums (as Grisham has done in the past). There is something here that cannot be dismissed and building on all the varied aspects of the story to create a checkerboard of drama and entertainment, Grisham keeps the reader in the middle of all the action. Between the DC issues and those across the world, there is little time for the reader to sit back and relax, though there is also little interest in remaining passive. Perhaps not his most gripping story, but Grisham is sure to pack a punch when the reader invests the needed time getting to the root of the issues here. I can only hope that there are more flashy stories like this to come.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for all you do. I know it must be tough, up to your twenty-fifth legal novel now, but you do it all so well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Camino Island, by John Grisham 

Seven stars

Back with another new novel, John Grisham seeks to expand his horizons with a story free of much legalese, but with the slightest hint of some criminal activity. A heist at one of Princeton’s libraries puts a number of original F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts in the hands of some career criminals. Quick-acting FBI agents are able to scoop up two of the five, but the others are still in hiding, along with the manuscripts. When one is rumoured to have surfaced at a small book shop on Camino Island, the FBI’s Rare Asset Recovery Unit pegs Bruce Kabel as being involved and plan keep an eye on his bookselling operation. Meanwhile, Mercer Mann is approached by a private security firm to help with the reacquisition of the manuscripts under the guise of writing her next novel. Mercer has struggled with her craft and is not sure she wants to play sleuth, particularly if it means returning to Camino Island, where she spent many summers with her grandmother. Taking a risk, Mercer agrees to open some old wounds and pretends to be writing, while surrounding herself with the local writing community. Slowly, Mercer begins building bridges with Bruce Kabel, in hopes of learning more about the manuscripts. However, as she grows closer to an answer, Mercer may have second thoughts of toppling all she has built in a short period of time. With millions of dollars on the line, Mercer must decide what is most important to her. Grisham shows that he has talent to pen novels that keep lawyers and the law outside of the narrative. Sure to appeal to a different group of readers, the story offers some interesting insight into the craft of writing the next ‘great novel’. 

I have long been a fan of John Grisham and his novels, having cut my teeth on his legal thrillers throughout the years. This story differs greatly from those and serves a completely different purpose. While the legal thrillers are usually quite sharp-edged, this book shows a much smoother edge to Grisham’s writing. The characters offer an interesting mix, giving the reader a great sampling of both mannerisms and characteristics that complement one another at times and clash at moments to offer some dramatic flavour to the story. One might say that the characters are a lot softer than Grisham usually presents, but the genre might play into that, alongside the intended audience. The plot and setting are also a much softer, transitioning from the rough and tumble heist at the beginning to the oceanfront setting of Florida, where the breeze and sand denote a more peaceful place for the book to develop. One also has a feel of more romance and emotional discovery in this book, where the reader is subjected to Mercer’s inner turmoil and portions of her self-discovery as she grows closer to the man she is supposed to betray. Its structure also left me a little baffled, choosing ‘chapters’ in what are surely part divisions and then chopping up the chapters into enumerated pieces, clearly of the usual chapter variety. I will admit that the book was well-crafted and kept the story moving forward, but I feel it tapped too much into sentimentality and the development of the author’s process than gritty legal battles and a dark exploration of the criminal element, which better suits Grisham as an author and my enjoyment of his stories. This book will surely create a stir, both good and bad, for the vast number of Grisham fans. I am happy to have offered my five Canadian cents and will watch as things transpire. 

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for another interesting novel. While it was not my favourite, your versatility shines through by penning this piece. I am eager to see how it is received.