Set a few years after the events of A Time to Kill, John Grisham’s latest legal thriller a Time For Mercy takes us back to the small-town world of Jack Brigance, aka as Grisham’s answer to Atticus Finch. Living on the reputation of his work in Kill, Jake and Henry Rex are knee-deep in a wrongful death case that could bring a huge windfall to the family involved and to their bank accounts as well when they get their cut.
When a local deputy is killed by a young man named Drew Gamble, Jake is assigned the case by the court. Like the case in Kill and its sequel Sycamore Row, the case against Gamble is steeped in controversy. Drew killed the deputy in question after a pattern of abusive behavior toward his mother and sister, including thinking his mother had been killed in a drunken rage by the deputy on the night of the crime. Facing trial as an adult and the death penalty, Drew’s situation looks desperate as the community makes their collective assumptions about the case and those involved in it.
Grisham’s A Time to Kill may be his best book and I can see how it would be tempting for him to go dip back into the world of Clanton, Mississippi. Wisely, Grisham develops Jake as a human being who is trying to serve the greater good — for his clients and himself. At one point, Jake makes a human error in the case against the railroad that ends up turning around to bite him. This plot point serves well to remind us that while Jake is idealistic, he’s not necessarily a saint.
As for the rest of A Time for Mercy, it felt like a bit of a mixed bag. There is clearly a need for justice to be served here, but somehow I came away from this one feeling oddly unsatisfied. Part of that could be that for a legal thriller, the novel spends less than a quarter of its page count with Jake in court defending Drew. A lot of background is given into the Gamble family situation and the community’s reaction. But if you’re expecting the usual Grisham thriller where the central court case is wrapped up in a neat bow by the time you get to the final page, you may come away as disappointed.
And yet, I can’t deny that it wasn’t nice to spend a few hundred pages with Jake and the world of Clanton again. I can’t help but feel that Grisham has left the door open for one more visit to Jake and Clanton again in the future. And if he does, I will be there to see where just where he takes us and Jake next.