Top critical review
A Visceral Look at Small-Town Justice in an Imaginary South
on July 29, 2008
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.