A Time to Kill by John Grisham


Rating: 2/5

Medium: Book

Overview (no spoilers): While A Time to Kill is a fast paced, and for the most part entertaining novel, the shocking plot twists are fairly predictable. Overall, Grisham writes a page-turner, which is hard to put down, yet as the book is reaching the climax, the author appears to become as weary of the story as Jake Brigance is of his trial. Until the trial started, the book, throughout, exorbitantly detailed everything from his beautiful house to the three coffee shops in town square, however by the end of the book detail are scant and few in between with entire chunks of dialogue and the trial being skimmed over. In short, a good read, however it leaves the reader wanting a bit more as the story winds down.

Additional Insight:

Warning: The following text could contain potential spoilers.

I found A Time to Kill to be a fast paced and suspenseful read that was for the most part enjoyable, however I found the evolution of the main character Jake Brigance puzzling. The majority of the beginning of A Time to Kill highlighted Jake’s devotion to his wife, child, house, routine, and work, in no particular order. His success is tailored around a strict routine of rules and a deep, unabated love for his wife and child. The rules were detailed to the point of waking up, eating the same breakfast, and work patterns. Emphasized several times was Jake choice to abstain from alcohol despite consuming large quantities of Coors during law school. Overall his character was established as a confident, self-possessed, moral individual, from which I came to view him as a mix between Ned Stark and Robin Hood. However, as the trial gets underway and a very real threat is directed at his family Jake’s polished, restrained demeanor begins to crumble. He rushes his family out of danger by sending them to his in-laws, and proceeds to subsequently get blackout drunk. Initially, I excused this out-of-character behavior as venting some steam, but this drinking continued and escalated throughout the remainder of the book, potentially hindering his ability to defend a man who’s life is at stake. The lapse into drinking as soon as his wife, who he supposedly adores, is out of the picture seems out of character for Jake when the well-publicized trial will either be his biggest career break or cause financial and public ruin. For a character, built up as such a responsible, restrained person I have a hard time imagining him losing the self-control and poise he had established over years, especially while a man’s life is in the balance.

The morning following his first foray into drinking copious amount of alcohol upon his wife and child’s departure to safety, a new, young, sexually charged female enters the story. Ellen is a spunky, third year law student who is incredibly brilliant in criminal law and as noted several times, refuses to wear a bra. Initially, there is little to no sexual tension between Jake and Ellen, who works incredibly hard. However, as the trial proceeds the duo begins flirting and even driving hours to go to dinner together to avoid suspicious eyes. Although nothing physical happened, Jake even acknowledged his wife would not find his and Ellen’s relationship appropriate. Flitting back to the topic of Jake’s wife, she seems very supportive and accepting of Jake’s rigid work routine. Therefore, toward the end of the book when out of the blue Jake goes on a small depressing rant about how she’s going to divorce him when she comes back from her parents seems out of place and does not give her the credibility she deserves. Granted, this is after Jake has become somewhat of a drunk, something she despises, and he hid from her that their house burned down, so maybe Jake has a point.   Overall, I fought disappointment while watching Jake stray further and further from the idealistic, self-possessed Jake, which had first taken on the trial.

The most reoccurring theme, which should be expanded upon to a certain extent was the question posed to almost all the characters at some point. “What would you do it if was your child? Would you have killed the rapist?” Almost all of the characters, either reluctantly or vehemently exclaimed their support for Carl Lee. The prosecutor was really one only main character that vocally said he would have left the case in the hands of the law, and he was almost vilified for it, well that, and his obnoxious personality. The book explored the concept and made the reader ponder if there can there be an excuse for killing. Is it acceptable to retaliate with murder in response to a heinous, terrible, life-altering crime? While I rooted for Carl Lee not to get the death penalty, I personally struggled with the aforementioned questions. A Time to Kill does an excellent job investigating and exploring gray areas in morality, which are typically viewed as black and white. I’m fully aware of the irony in my last statement due to the other racially charged issues throughout the book.

Further Comments or Questions:

  1. I wish I had tallied the number of times the question was posed in some form, “What would you have done if it was your child?”
  1. Who called the old civil rights minister to go talk to Carl Lee in jail?
  1. Does the entire behind the scenes eaves dropping and jury selection drama actually occur in large trials?
  1. How does Carl Lee not think about how his time in jail will affect his family? Carl Lee is the main source of income and his rash act, which was not even discussed with his wife, left their family in an impossible situation where they were starving. My heart went out to the family, who was already hurting, and now having to deal with a very public trial, which might result in Carl Lee getting the death penalty.
  1. I enjoyed Mickey Mouse’s character in the story due to the added element of mystery, however his death seemed rather terrible and abrupt, allowing that he single handily saved Jake and his family, as well as probably Ellen. Does Jake ever find out who Mickey Mouse was and how he died?

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