Reading Sycamore Row took me down the memory lane to its prequel, A Time to Kill. And I realized that I haven’t written a review for this much beloved book. So here I’m trying to rectify that omission.
A Time to Kill is one of the few emotional contemporary books that I have read. Based on the theme of racism and set in mid-eighties in a southern town in Mississippi, Grisham tells the tale of a black man who murdered two white men who raped his child and one white lawyer’s heroic struggle to defend him in a racially prejudiced society amidst great personal losses.
Jake Brigance, the young hero, is undoubtedly my favourite Grisham character; and it will forever be so. Being a lawyer myself, he represents many ethical and professional qualities that we lawyers revere. Perhaps, he was modeled on the author himself.
In the story, Jake represents the future, the liberal promising mind of a racially prejudiced southern town. His struggle to make the jury look beyond the colour of the man and into the heart of the man to understand (not to condone) his action, is a fight for equality and justice in the eyes of law irrespective of a person’s skin colour. And the all-white jury decision is a victory of humanity; a promise that humanity is preserved in average citizens no matter how much division the extremists may create.
Although this story is set in a bygone era, it is still relevant today, for prejudices based on skin colour, gender and religion are still in store. So in that light, A Time to Kill is a timeless tale.
And before I end my short review I must say a few words about Grisham’s writing. It is his first attempt at a novel, so perhaps the writing is not yet at his best. But it is written with sincerity, compassion, and with much feeling that I personally feel that this is the one novel (although his debut) into which the author has poured his heart and soul. I’ve read quite a few Grisham works, and to me, A Time to Kill is his best; and it will always be my favourite Grisham novel.