Story of Young Defense Attorney in A Time to Kill: A Novel

Did you know John Grisham's first novel is a story of a young lawyer defending a black Vietnam war hero who kills the white druggies who raped his child in tiny Clanton, Mississippi?

The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town of Clanton in Ford County, Mississippi, reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes justice into his own outraged hands.  For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life–and then his own.

A Time to Kill is a gripping tale of a young lawyer defending a black Vietnam war hero who has killed two white men (who raped his daughter). The tale is a mixture of the Grisham-style legal story and of America's tragic history of slavery and black repression. Grisham tells the story perfectly. His dialogue is spot on. There is one, superb passage where the local reverend is preaching to his flock.

In the rural town of Clanton, Mississippi, Tonya Hailey, a ten-year-old, girl is brutally raped by two drunken young men. The men are arrested, but before their trial, the girl's father, Carl Lee, takes justice into his own hands with an M-16 rifle.

Carl Lee's attorney and friend, Jake Brigance, must come up with a plausible defense in order to save his clients life. After all, some might consider Carl Lee's actions completely justified. There's one serious problem however Carl Lee is black, and the two men he murdered were white. This doesn't fly in the moderately racist county, and soon the Ku Klux Klan is threatening Jake's life.

The characters are wonderful. Jake Brigance is the young lawyer who is determined to save his client, Carl Lee Hailey from the gas chamber after he killed the two rednecks charged with the brutal attack of his daughter. Aiding Brigance in this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't case is Harry Rex Vonner, a shady divorce lawyer noted for doing anything and everything to win (legal or not;) Lucien Wilbanks (Brigance's mentor) who is a disbarred attorney who is also noted for his activist stance and last but not least, Ellen Roark - an idealistic 2nd year law student from Ole Miss who isn't afraid to take on anyone to make a case.

All the characters in A Time to Kill are well thought and well-developed, specially the Jake's character. You can feel the tension mounting up as the trial date comes near and near. Though trial of Car Lee won't take place until the climax of the book. But the events which happens in Clanton before Car Lee trial either the coming Ku Klux Klan or NAACP lawyers who want to take the case from Jake are handled really well.

Dialogues are well crafted and is crackling, specially dialogues between Jake and Roark. How the rape and aftermath of the murders effect the folks of the city both white and black is handled well. The psychological effect of rape on victim and victims family is handled well. It's really heart-braking when doctor tell Tonya's mother that Tonya will not have any child in the future.

The way the legal system works in criminal cases and how people try to twist these systems either by purchasing one of the jury member to result in hang jury or by choosing all white jury or by presenting false witness or by using insanity defense to defend the victim very well handled and described in such way that even a novice to law can understand it pretty well.

A Time to Kill focuses on the racial part of things down in the Deep South. This is a very powerful story; it has meaning and feeling and makes you consider what you would do in that situation.  The small-town gossip and backroom deals and crooked politicians are to be expected. The marrow-deep racism and the presence of the Klan are handled well; the vicious attacks that the Klan perpetrates on those involved with Hailey's defense puts them on par with the rapists as far as villains go. The actual trial of Carl Lee Hailey doesn't get started until the book's climax and in between are some great monologues about racism, the Vietnam War, revenge, and the legal system.