A Time for Mercy (Jack Brigance)
“Grisham has a knack for throwing curves into the story that, with any other writer, could be distracting, but with Grisham every curve is woven into the story and builds the tension through to the end.”
Drew Gamble kills Deputy Stuart Kofer; he admits to the crime, the forensics are never in question, but what is in question is why.
Drew and his younger sister Kiera and their mother Josie have lived with Kofer under abusive circumstances, and they have no place to go. While Kofer’s family and friends and coworkers know him as a good cop, Josie and her kids know the other side of him.
It’s a job that no lawyer in Clanton, Mississippi, wants to take on—a 16-year-old indigent boy murders his mother’s lover, who just happens to be a local, well-liked cop. Lawyer Jake Brigance could not get out of town fast enough before the call comes from Judge Omar Noose, assigning him to the case.
Jake can’t say no, and Omar knows it. Omar also knows that Jake is probably the only lawyer that can take on this defense and possibly keep the boy away from the death penalty.
As Jake digs into the details of the night of Kofer’s murder, he begins to see both sides of the man. The side that interests him most is what drove Drew to commit murder.
In John Grisham’s gripping first chapter, this is all laid out for the reader. Kofer comes home late, drunk, and angry, and he takes his anger out on Josie. The kids have locked themselves in their room, but they can’t escape the terror of what Josie is experiencing. Yelling, screaming, and fierce anger set the stage until Kofer explodes, knocking Josie around until she lands on the floor.
He comes looking for the kids but can’t get into the room, so he returns to his own bedroom where he passes out. Drew and Kiera quietly leave their room in search of their mother. They find her on the floor, dead, and Drew finds Kofer passed out on his bed. Drew finds Kofer’s service revolver, places it against the man’s head, and pulls the trigger. Kofer will not bother them again. Drew calls the police but when they arrive, Drew, Kiera, and the police discover that Josie is not dead, but severely injured.
Drew is arrested, Josie is taken to the hospital with Kiera, and Jake gets the call.
Jake has the best of legal teams in Harry Rex Vonner, Jake’s best friend and an excellent lawyer; Portia Lang, Jake’s secretary who is studying for her own law degree; and Lucien Wilbanks, the owners of Jake’s building—a disbarred lawyer himself, but a strong asset to the team.
On the other side, Sheriff Ozzie Walls, the entire police department, Stuart Kofer’s family, and district Attorney Lowell Dyer—are all seeking the death penalty for the crime.
And it is from this premise that Grisham takes the reader on an educational journey about the justice system, especially in a small town in the state of Mississippi.
Grisham designs his characters in three dimensions to ensure that the reader not only sees them but understands them, even with all the warts that make them human. Even his secondary characters such as Jake’s wife Carla and Stuart Kofer’s father Earl have depth to them that so often eludes other writers’ skills.
Grisham’s journey takes the reader from the initial crime, through the character development—ensuring the reader knows who is on which side—through the investigation, and into the trial itself.
As Grisham builds on his premise, Jake seeks help from state and federal agencies that act on behalf of children. The prosecution fears an insanity plea, but Jake does not show his cards. Grisham shows the flaws in the legal system, and Jake takes advantage of them, sometimes to his own downfall, which further builds his character through his own flaws.
Kofer’s family demands the death penalty for Drew and become violent in their own actions, bringing more tension and conflict into the story.
The last quarter of the book is the trial and is probably the fastest read in the entire story, but that is not to say the book doesn’t move well from beginning to end. It does, and Grisham has a knack for throwing curves into the story that, with any other writer, could be distracting, but with Grisham every curve is woven into the story and builds the tension through to the end.
Grisham is one of the premier authors of mystery thrillers of contemporary writing. He explains the law in terms that the average reader can understand while at the same time laying out a story that moves quickly and is hard, if not impossible, to put down. After 30-plus novels, Grisham proves that he is not about to let up.