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on 17 June 2004
I read this book on my brother's recomendation after finshing Grisham's other classic 'The Last Juror', and I was sure that nothing could top it. Man, was I wrong! Grisham's first novel is certainly his finest and he tells the story of a black man without a hope in front of an all-white jury seeking justice with the eloquent, flowing style of an accomplished writer, despite it being his first. Anyone who likes a good story that keeps you hooked to the end won't be disappointed - I couldn't put it down. A tremendous read!
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A Time to Kill is not for those with weak stomachs. In his first novel, John Grisham holds nothing back in describing man's inhumanity to man. If you like reading about violence that would make those with weak stomachs miss a meal, this is your book.

The premise of the book is a thought-provoking one: How would a Southern small town treat a crime by an African-American perpetrated with malice aforethought that it would have permitted a white southerner to get away with?

The book's best qualities are exploring the roots of racial prejudice.

For those who like legal thrillers where there's some action, this is far more than your usual courtroom drama. It comes closer to the kind of taut threat that permeated To Kill a Mockingbird. The only difference is that Grisham conjures up an intersection in time between the old and new South that never happened.

I found that the book was predictable in its over-the-top treatment of what would have made for good drama. But the extreme situations weakened the plot by making it seem unlikely. I suspect it was a writing method used to be sure that those who didn't know about the old South would appreciate the delicate nature of the emotions involved.

If you want to get a sense of how far Grisham has come, read this book and then The Client. Fortunately, Grisham learned how to back off from writing over the top and has become an excellent novelist.

You'll keep turning the pages of this book. I doubt if very many people put it down unfinished.
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Tonight around 1 a.m., Grisham's new book Sycamore Row will appear on my Kindle as if by magic. In it, he revisits the people of Ford County who appeared in his first book, 'A Time to Kill', all of 24 years ago in 1989. I couldn't remember if I'd read it, and even if I had, the plot had faded completely from my mind, so a refresher seemed in order. As it turns out, I haven't read it before, though I've certainly seen the film.

The story begins with the horrific gang-rape and beating of a young black girl by two white men. The two men are quickly arrested and there is no doubt about their guilt. However, Carl Lee Hailey, the father of young Tonya, is not ready to let justice take its course and sets out to take his own revenge. When he is in turn arrested and charged with murder, he asks Jake Brigance to defend him. While there's a lot of sympathy for Carl Lee, especially amongst 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 racists who think Carl Lee should be lynched. Soon the town is plunged into fear as the Ku Klux Klan take the opportunity to resurrect the days of burning crosses and worse.

Grisham doesn't give any easy answers and doesn't paint anyone as a complete hero (and only the rapists and the KKK are seen as wholly villainous). There's a huge cast of characters and we get to know their flaws as much as their strengths; and it's an indication of Grisham's skill that we can still like so many of them even when we are bound to disagree with most of them at least some of the time, whatever our own views. As the case proceeds and conviction looks increasingly likely, Jake has to decide how far he can stretch his fairly elastic ethics. And he also has to consider whether it's worth the danger that he's inadvertently brought on his family, employees and himself.

In the foreword, Grisham tells us that the book didn't have much impact when it was first published but that over the years it has grown in popularity. I can understand both of those things. Firstly, it's an enormous brick of a book, the first chapter is a graphic and shocking description of the gang-rape and, being based in the South and with racism as a major theme, the use of the n-word is liberal from the beginning and throughout. If it was my first introduction to Grisham, I'm not sure I'd have gone past the first few chapters. However, it is Grisham, and so I read on...and how glad I am that I did!

This is an ambitious, sprawling book that looks at racism, ethics, fatherhood, friendship, politics, gender and, of course, corruption and the law. As always with Grisham, the writing is flowing, the plot is absorbing, the characterisation is in-depth and believable and there's plenty of humour to leaven the grim storyline. The sheer length of the book gives Grisham plenty of room to explore his themes thoroughly and he carefully balances his characters so that we get to see both sides of each argument, particularly on vigilantism and capital punishment. Grisham doesn't peddle his own views - he lets his characters argue each side effectively and so the reader is left to decide. Grisham says that often people he meets tell him this is their favourite of all his books - if I ever meet him, I think I'll be telling him that too. Now I can only hope that 'Sycamore Row' lives up to the standard Grisham has set himself...
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on 2 June 2006
'A Time to Kill' was the first novel written by John Grisham and he did so over a number of years as he continued to practice law. It has a much rawer feel to it than his later polished titles and I for one feel that it benefits from this.

Jake, a small town lawyer, has just been offered the biggest case his career will ever see. A 10 year old black girl has been raped by two white men and rather then let the justice system deal with them her father shoots and kills them. Can Jake get his client off? Will race troubles force the small town into a civil war? And can Jake protect his family from a rejuvenated KKK?

With the above ingredients Grisham has produced a novel that stands head and shoulders above the others I have read by him. The story is fast paced and exciting with the actual trial only playing a minor role near the end. Instead we concentrate on the rest of the process and the impact that a large case like this can have on a small town.

Perhaps the best part of this book is the character of Jake himself. A lawyer who is protecting the rights of a black man in a white town should be a pure character? Wrong. Grisham writes him as an arrogant man interested in both his client but perhaps more about his career. I found this refreshing and enjoyed the book a lot more for it.

I would recommend this book to anyone as an introduction to Grisham as it his first and, so far, best novel. Some scenes are violent and there is a lot of racism so bare that in mind. However, there is little to fault this fast and furious read - Sammy recommendation.
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on 25 April 2008
After watching the film version of "A Time to Kill" for about the thirteenth time on TV I decided I decided to turn to the book to see how Grisham tells the story. I was expecting a more or less one-to-one correspondence between the two, but was surprised to find a number of differences, most of which to redound to the advantage of the film. This is an entertaining read and I recommend it to Grisham fans, but I can just picture Grisham watching the film version and thinking to himself "why didn't I think of that?" on so many occasions. This is especially true toward the end where the film finishes with a dramatic climax brought about by the skill and dedication of the story's protagonist lawyer, whereas in the book we simply seem to stumble from coincidence to coincidence, with the main resolution brought about by a completely incidental character who is only introduced a few pages before the end of the book. In many film adaptations the writers, pressured for concision, omit relevant and illuminating parts of the book, often at the expense of depth. With "A Time to Kill" this is entirely reversed. Grisham has a tendency to include too much detail, not so much in his descriptions, but in the minutiae of the legal process, so much so that I often felt the plot losing its bite as the same scenes were repeated a few too many times (eg Jake visiting Lucien and getting drunk, or everyone getting drunk at Jake's office). By virtue of its brevity, the film condenses these revealing yet ultimately redundant scences and keeps a much tighter pace. I admit that I read this book with the bias of knowing the film very well, but since there is a 2 hour, more polished, more gripping, more refined and more witty film version of the very interesting premise of this book I find it hard to rate it very highly.
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on 5 July 2004
I know a few people would disagree with me when I say "A Time to Kill" is possibly Grisham's best novel, but it is definitely one of my favourites. It is graphic and quite disturbing at the beginning, although remembering it is only a story, the drama makes it only more gripping.
Throughout the novel you begin to feel close to the Hailey family and "the Hailey girl" as she is referred to by Grisham. You feel their despondency and melancholy as Grisham once again succeeds in reaching out to his readers with enthralling narration.
A must read for all Grisham lovers and for Grisham beginners too!
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A Time To Kill, John Grisham's first novel, is a remarkably compelling, bold, fearless, lofty achievement for a new writer. While the book was picked up and published in small numbers at first, it was not until The Firm placed Grisham squarely on the map that this earlier effort was republished and made available for the masses of his new fans. What impresses me most about A Time To Kill is the way in which Grisham grabs your attention and sucks you right into the story immediately every time you pick it up; my interest and fascination was retained throughout the whole 500+ pages. I'm generally not a fan of lawyer or police novels, but the criminal events forming the crux of this novel are visceral right from the start, as little 10-year old Tonya Hailey, a black girl, is brutally raped and assaulted by two cruel white men. Grisham doesn't wait around to throw his best stuff directly at the reader. The two men are arrested and put on trial, but Carl Lee Hailey, Tonya's father, gets hold of an M-16 and blows both guys away (along with a deputy's lower leg) in the very halls of the courthouse. Jake Brigance, our protagonist, is determined to get his new client acquitted, a very tough task when everyone knows how the man planned and carried out the murders in cold blood. Naturally, some folks think Carl Lee should be declared a hero for what he did, while others argue that vigilante justice cannot be permitted. Since a black man killed two white men for raping his black daughter, race quickly becomes the big tent under which a legal and social circus is performed in the small town of Clanton, Mississippi. The black churches organize to support Carl Lee, calling in the NAACP and urging blacks from all over that part of the state to come to the courthouse demanding Carl Lee's release. The defunct Klan reemerges in the town and goes well beyond simple intimidation of jurors and Jake Brigance himself. Needless to say, there is a lot of human drama contained in these pages.
As eminently readable as this novel is, though, a few things about it bother me enough for me to take away one star from my rating. The action is just not real enough. Carl Lee is given unimaginable privileges by the black sheriff while being held in jail, for one thing. The most prominent black preacher in the county has a number of sinful ways about him. The judges seem to behave inappropriately at times, and some of the antics of Jake and the D.A. during the trial provide sources of humor that seem inappropriate. As for Jack, I found it impossible to ever really like the man. All he cares about is keeping this client and getting all the publicity for defending this man before the eyes of the nation. He tells his wife he will drop the case if it looks like he or his family is in danger, but that is pledge is proven quite false. He is rather unethical at times, proves himself to be less than careful in his trial preparation, and he spends the better part of the crucial days drinking like a fish. John Grisham says there is a lot of himself in Jake Brigance, and maybe all lawyers really are as superficial as the protagonist, but I hope that is not the case.
As compelling a read as this book is, much of its fate naturally hinges on its conclusion. Will Carl Lee be freed or sentenced to death? I can accept the climax of these events as it is written, but it does feel somewhat rushed. After oftentimes slowly and carefully picking over every bit of action and dialogue, things just happen too quickly in the end. The judgment of the case also belies events in the courtroom, and one main character is all but forgotten at the end. No first novel should be perfect, and this one certainly isn't, but it is nevertheless one of the most amazing first novels I have read from an author. Grisham keeps your hands glued to the pages from start to finish.
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VINE VOICEon 22 November 2008
I've been reading crime fiction for a while now and it's common knowledge that John Grisham is considered one of the best, so it was only a matter of time until I picked up his debut novel 'A Time To Kill'. Amazon has a pretty healthy review of the synopsis and even offers an exerpt from the book so I wont delve into too much of the plot as all you will need to know can be found there.
This is a very good debut book, an awfully good book debut or no debut and deserves to be read if you are a fan of the genre. The legalese and courtroom scenes are a pleasure to read, the length though abundant is well paced and never fails to lose its speed. The main characters are described beautifully and theres a cast of endearing supporting characters. The way Grisham describes the southern town invaded by black protestors and the imminent threat of the Ku Klux Klan is astounding. You feel as if your in Clanton, living, breathing and being part of the infamous Carl Lee Hailey trial.
I highly recommend this book, you will not be sorry.
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on 21 May 2001
We wanted to read a foreign-language-book in class, so we decided to read this book, because of the interesting plot. In the story a young black girl, Tonya Hailey, is attacked and raped by two white men. Because of this terrible crime Tonya's father, Carl Lee Hailey, shoots the two. Now a really sensational trial begins and only Jake Brigance , Carl Lee's lawyer, can help him. We think this book is very good because you get a real impression of racism in America especially in the South. Besides this book is really thrilling because of the realistic description of the characters and the exciting story. But one thing is not so good, you can anticipate the end of the story very fast. Another reason to read this book is that you learn a bit about the legal system of America and we think that's interesting, too. So if you want to read a good, realistic and also thrilling book, take this one!
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on 22 July 2005
It was so real I was full of hatred for the rapists and felt for the victims family. I forgot the fact that this was fiction.
If you are starting a Grisham book this is the perfect start. you will love this story. Will be rooting for a verdict one way or the other I guarantee it.
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