Courtroom Drama Book Review: A Time for Mercy by John Grisham

A Time for Mercy is book number three about the Clanton, MS attorney who John Grisham introduced us to in A Time to Kill in 1989.

A picture of Matthew McConaughey reading the subject of my courtroom drama book review of A Time for Mercy.

This is my courtroom drama book review of an immensely popular book that became a box office smash in 1996 starring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, and Ashley Judd.

A Time to Kill starts right off with the rape and attempted murder of a ten-year-old black girl and quickly escalates to the vengeful, vigilante-style killing of the two white men charged with the crimes by the girl’s father, Carl Lee.

In 2013, Grisham took us back to Clanton in Ford County, MS, with Sycamore Row. The first thing he did in that book was suicide Jake’s client.

You can read my courtroom drama book review of Sycamore Row here.

What a way to reintroduce us to Jake and Carla Brigance, Lucien, Harry Rex, Judge Atlee and Noose, Carl Lee, Sheriff Ozzie Walls, and so many more that we hadn’t realized we missed.

In several other books through the years, he let us walk the streets of Clanton. He says, “I’ve written so much about Ford County that I can’t remember all of it.” I believe that. I know I’ve read most of these, and I continue to want more.

I read The Last Juror, The Chamber, The Summons, The Reckoning (although The Reckoning is more of a fictional history), and a collection of seven short stories about Ford County.    

In his epilogue, Mr. Grisham tells us, “As a young attorney so many years ago I was bound to follow them to the letter of the law. Now, as a writer of fiction, I feel no such bondage. Here, as before, I have changed laws, twisted them, even fabricated them, all in an effort to drive the narrative.”

I think we can all agree; he does drive the narrative.

An Introduction

Once again, the author wastes no time getting to the meat of the story. Drew Gamble, a meek 16-year-old boy, believes the drunken deputy who repeatedly beats on him, his sister, and his mother has finally killed his mother after breaking her jaw and leaving her lying in her own blood.

The deputy passes out on his bed, leaving his service revolver on the stand beside the bed. Thinking the deputy might wake up and kill him and his sister, he uses the lawman’s own gun to shoot him in the head, calls 9-1-1, and sits with his sister waiting for the police.

Kiera, his sister, cradles their mother’s head in her lap, all the time thinking she is dead or dying.

The Protagonist in This Courtroom Drama Book Review

The protagonist is Jake Brigance, the attorney who freed Carl Lee. The townsfolk in Clanton want a speedy trial, and most want the death penalty for Drew Gamble. However, Jake, the duly appointed public defender, who wants nothing to do with the trial, is “forced” to take it.

Well, technically not forced, he could turn it down, but a well-respected Judge up for re-election appoints him, saying, “The situation can get dicey and needs a steady hand. I trust you, Jake, and that’s why I’m asking you to step in.” He digs in and quickly discovers there is more to the case than meets the public eye. 

The Plot

Once again, the hero of A Time to Kill, Jake Brigance, is the court-appointed public defender of Drew Gamble. Jake must do what he does best, defend an indefensible client, and keep him from meeting the death penalty.

Jake puts his financial freedom, legal career, and family’s safety on the line to defend a kid being tried for first-degree murder as an adult. Jake is the one person between this kid and a lethal injection.

Many of the townspeople still think Jake Brigance pulled some underhanded tricks to get Carl Lee cleared of killing the two white men in A Time to Kill. This story is only five years after that trial in book years, even though it has been 31 actual years.

Like it or not, this is still Clanton, Mississippi, in the deep south. Black men are not supposed to get away with killing white men, regardless of their crime.

The Characters in This Courtroom Drama Book Review

Of course, Jake and Carla Brigance, the Gamble family, Drew, his mother, and sister, Kiera, are the central figures.

Other people you need to know about are Jake’s intern, Portia, Harry Rex, Lucien, Judge Noose and Atlee, the DA, and his team of prosecutors.

The deputy’s vengeful family is not happy with Jake trying to defend the kid and question every move he makes. When Jake orders a mental evaluation because the kid isn’t eating, the family thinks he will try to get him off on an insanity defense. 

There are also Sheriff Ozzie Walls, his deputies who aren’t exactly happy with Jake defending their fellow law enforcement officer.

John Grisham has the extraordinary ability to develop believable characters. You will feel as if you know each one personally.

The Summary & Recommendation

If you’re waiting for a fast-paced courtroom drama and murder trial, this is not it. This is a time for mercy! Grisham takes us through all the background information, research, and technicalities that we would find boring if told to us by anybody but him.

“Bursting with all the courthouse scheming, small-town intrigue, and stunning plot twists that have become the hallmarks of the master of the legal thriller, A Time for Mercy is John Grisham’s most powerful courtroom drama yet.” —Amazon

You might be disappointed that there is no last-minute crucial witness that comes running in to save the kid from the death penalty. But you enjoy a well-written courtroom drama that only Grisham could make interesting and suspenseful.

A Time for Mercy is a must-read for all Grisham and Brigance fans.

Twenty-one thousand, eight hundred and four verified buyers who reviewed A Time for Mercy, 91 percent gave it four or five stars, and an overall rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars. The NY Times calls it “riveting” and “suspenseful.”

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