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