Review Blog

Nov 13 2020

A time for mercy by John Grisham

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Hodder & Stoughton, 2020. ISBN: 9781529342338.
(Age: Senior secondary/adult) Recommended. Small town Mississippi lawyer Jake Brigance is given a case no one else wants. Popular Deputy Stuart Kofer has been shot and killed. It's Jake's duty to defend an immature 16 year boy who has admitted to pulling the trigger.
The town of Clanton in Ford County Mississippi is not large, but it does have a sheriff with a number of deputies as well as a city police force. Surprisingly its sheriff, Ossie Walls is black. He like other elected officials including the judge is up for reelection in the coming year. Mississippi in America's deep south is church going and conservative, they have the death penalty and many believe the gas chamber is not used often enough.
Twice divorced Kofer has been living with Josie and her two teenaged kids for a number of months. She has a history; pregnant at 15, a few unhappy and dysfunctional relationships, a couple of drug convictions, some time in prison, her kids in care and a life, at times, of living out of her car. Josie jumped at the chance of some stability, a roof over her head and food on the table. Kofer seemed like a great choice. But Stuart had a dark side especially when drunk, which was becoming more frequent.
Opinion in the town, from law enforcement, the Kofer family and the God fearing community was that who ever shot Stuart Kofer should go to the gas chamber. Jake Brigance has been leaned on by Judge Omar Noose to be the state appointed attorney for young Drew Gamble. He is about to become the most unpopular guy in town.
The facts of the case seem straight forward, an open and shut case. But as Jake gets to know Josie Gamble and her son Drew and daughter Kiera, the sympathy he has with the family grows as does his concern for the well being of Drew. Drew, though 16 has not yet hit puberty. He is small thin and looks 12. After his arrest he is withdrawn and hardly seems aware of what he has done. He is locked in the Clanton jail, a hostile environment with no facilities for a juvenile especially one with significant trauma. Kiera on the other hand, though 14, is physically mature and attractive, though timid and inhibited.
Jake Brigance has the support of the law firm and a few stalwart friends, but there has been a loss of business and threats to his family for his defence of Drew Gamble. He successfully gets Drew out of jail for psychological assessment and counselling and is able to arrange for Josie and Kiera to be cared for by one of the local churches.
When the trial begins Jake proves to be a consummate court room performer. He is able to use the few assets the Gamble family situation provides with skill like a chess player and keeps facts from the prosecution until the trial.
Grisham has written many books, many of them court room dramas, but A Time For Mercy seems fresh, riveting and eminently readable. Politics, the legal system, "the South", prejudice, religion and the human condition all blend to make this novel a joy to read.
Themes: Crime, Court room, Lawyers, Murder, Mississippi, Death penalty.
Mark Knight

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