Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Time to Kill by John Grisham *****

A Time to Kill is John Grisham's first novel and clearly places the legal-thriller author in the class of talented writers who seemed to be fully matured and excellent from the very beginning. See Famous First Novels for more examples. I wonder if many (most) authors never get beyond that first novel regardless of the quality - excellent writers don't get worse and mediocre writers don't get better. The being a strong argument against the massive "writer's workshop" industry - if you're not Steven King or Jane Austen now, you're never going to be. What do you think?

This novel, also available as A Time to Kill (movie) with Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, and Samuel L Jackson, asks the question whether a father is justified in killing the men who raped his preteen daughter. Set in rural Mississippi, post-civil-rights racism, both benign (can there be benign racism?) and violent, is portrayed throughout - clearly a book targeted at mature audiences.

John Grisham fans will recognize his wonderful characters, suspenseful subplots, and, of course, detailed, dramatic descriptions of courtroom procedures. The one thing that separates this from his later works is the pat, conclusive, fantasy ending. While most John Grisham novels end ambiguously, as one should expect from legal battles, this one ends with an old testament meting out of punishments.

Regardless, if you are a John Grisham reader and missed this one, you should rush to your "Friends of the Library" used-book store and pick up a copy.

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