Book Talk: Grisham — two hits and a miss
I read my first John Grisham novel in 1989. It was also his first novel, “A Time to Kill.” I’ve read every Grisham book since then. Most have been great reads. Several have been adapted for movies, including “A Time to Kill” (1996), starring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s an emotional story set in Clanton, Mississippi (a fictional town).
The plot revolves around the trial of a black man (Jackson) who has killed two white men who raped his ten-year-old daughter. Lawyer Jake Brigance has to deal with the Ku Klux Klan, a hostile town, and a determined District Attorney who is pressing for the death penalty. In attempting to save Carl Lee (the black man) from a death penalty, Jake not only has to fight the indisputable fact that Carl Lee shot the rapists but also an atmosphere in which Jim Crow is still alive and kicking.
In “A Time for Mercy,” (2020) Grisham revisits Clanton and Jake Brigance. Although this book was published 31 years later, only five years have passed in Clanton. (Between the two books, Grisham returned to Jake Brigance in “Sycamore Row,” 2013.)
In “A Time for Mercy,” Brigance, now a respected attorney, is court-appointed to represent a teenaged boy (Drew) who has killed his mother’s boyfriend, a deputy sheriff who beats him, his sister, and his mother whenever he’s in a drunken rage. Drew believes that the deputy has finally killed his mother when he breaks her jaw and leaves her lying in a puddle of blood.
The deputy’s family incites the public against Jake, who is made to feel unwelcome in the diner that he has visited every day for years. When he orders a psychological evaluation of Drew, who has been refusing to eat, the family believes that Jake is setting up an insanity defense, the same as he had used years before in the trial of Carl Lee.
The tension in this book is constant, as it was in “A Time to Kill,” and the ending is a powerful courthouse drama that will keep you reading into the early morning hours.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about Grisham’s most recent offering, “Sooley” (2021). Unlike most of Grisham’s work, virtually everything in this novel is predictable.
The main character is Samuel Sooleymon, a Dinka kid in war-torn South Sudan, who plays basketball on a dirt court, can jump 40” off the ground, but can’t even hit the backboard with a lay-up. Taken under the wing of a U.S. coach with a heart of gold, he comes to the U.S. and becomes a non-shooting guard on an American college team.
As expected, with good coaching and absolute devotion to his early morning practice, Sooley becomes a basketball phenomenon. But, his sudden fame and access to big dollars take their toll. I skipped the 100 pages or so that read like a box score.
• • •
Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.