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A Time for Mercy

Review

A Time for Mercy

In books spanning more than three decades, John Grisham has rarely resorted to the common practice of fellow writers, creating ongoing characters who appear in multiple stories. However, this isn’t always the case. In two recent novels, Bruce Cable, a dealer in rare books and the owner of an independent bookstore on fictional Camino Island, Florida, has been the protagonist. Jake Brigance is the other exception, and his story is more noteworthy.

In 1981, Grisham graduated from the University of Mississippi Law School and began practicing law in Southaven, Mississippi, a community of 48,000 near Memphis. His practice was devoted to criminal defense and personal injury law. While working as an attorney, he heard of an interesting case in his area that had the elements of a great book. Working for three years on a novel based on that case, Grisham finished A TIME TO KILL in 1987. Many publishers rejected it, but Wynwood Press released 5,000 copies to little fanfare. His second book, THE FIRM, was a smash when it was published in 1991, and his career soared.

"Grisham knows of what he writes. In A TIME FOR MERCY, readers see the law, both good and bad, and are better informed and educated on the operation of the American legal system."

A TIME TO KILL, which became a bestseller when it was rereleased, was set in rural Clanton, Mississippi, a fictional community not unlike Southaven. Featuring Jake Brigance, a young struggling attorney with a resume remarkably similar to Grisham’s, it centered on a murder trial and its impact on a racially divided community. Nearly 25 years later, Jake would appear in SYCAMORE ROW, representing a family in a dispute over a will. In A TIME FOR MERCY, Jake once again is involved in a criminal trial, but this time the facts of the case and the defendant are far different from what he had to deal with in A TIME TO KILL.

On a quiet Sunday morning, Jake receives a phone call from fellow Clanton attorney Harry Rex Vonner, who sometimes knows what is happening in town before it even happens. In one sentence, he sets the stage for the saga that is about to unfold: “Stuart Kofer got shot in the head last night. Dead. Ozzie picked up his girlfriend’s boy, sixteen-year-old kid without a trace of peach fuzz, and he’s at the jail just waitin’ on a lawyer.” Harry Rex warns Jake that some attorney will be appointed to represent Drew Gamble, the juvenile charged with killing Kofer, a Ford County deputy sheriff. Jake wants nothing to do with the case, primarily because he knows that representing anyone charged with killing a police officer can be poison to a law practice. He also is aware that the State of Mississippi will pay a court-appointed attorney a maximum of $1,000 for representing an indigent defendant, an amount that he would bill for one week’s worth of work.

But when the call comes from Judge Omar Noose, Jake cannot say no. As the case moves toward trial and Jake prepares his legal team for the courtroom, important issues are presented to readers and examined. They include the death penalty, treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system, the obligation of attorneys to provide vigorous advocacy for unpopular clients, and, perhaps most importantly, the tension between law enforcement and the minority community across America.

In addition, readers see the trials and tribulations of practicing law in a small community. While Grisham has set his story in rural Mississippi, as one who has been in many rural Illinois communities and their courthouses, the demise of small-town legal practices --- just as that of small-time doctors --- should be a concern for society at large.

Grisham knows of what he writes. In A TIME FOR MERCY, readers see the law, both good and bad, and are better informed and educated on the operation of the American legal system.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on October 15, 2020

A Time for Mercy
by John Grisham

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385545967
  • ISBN-13: 9780385545969