December 16, 2008

A Time to Kill

This article is about the Grisham novel. For the 1996 film, see A Time to Kill (film). For other users, see Time to Kill.

A Time to Kill is the title of a legal suspense thriller authored by John Grisham in 1989. Grisham's first novel, it was rejected by many publishers before Wynwood Press eventually gave it a modest 5,000-copy printing. After The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client became bestsellers, interest in A Time to Kill grew; the book was republished by Doubleday in hardcover and, later, by Dell Publishing in paperback, and itself became a bestseller. It is unusual for being the only one of Grisham's legal novels not to begin with the word "The," as has been Grisham's usual naming convention.

Setting

The story takes place in the town of Clanton, a fictional Mississippi town. (Although, in reality, Canton, Mississippi does exist and is the seat of Madison County.)

Inspiration

In 1984 at the De Soto County courthouse in Hernando, Grisham witnessed the harrowing testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim.[1] According to Grisham's official website, Grisham used his spare time to begin work on his first novel, which "explored what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants." [1] He spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987.

Plot summary

In Canton, Mississippi, 10-year-old Tonya Hailey is viciously brutalized by two white racists -- James Louis "Pete" Willard and Billy Ray Cobb. Shortly thereafter, Tonya is found and rushed to a hospital, while Pete and Billy Ray are heard bragging in a roadside bar about what they did to Tonya.

Tonya's distraught and enraged father, Carl Lee Hailey, recalls a similar case from the year before, in which four white men raped a black girl in a nearby town and were acquitted. Carl Lee determines not to allow that to happen in this case. Consequently, while Deputy Dwayne Powell Looney is escorting Pete and Billy Ray up a flight of stairs inside the courthouse, Carl Lee emerges from a nearby closet with an assault rifle and kills Pete and Billy Ray and badly wounds Looney, resulting in the amputation of his leg. (During the trial Looney forgives Hailey, and admits he would have done the same.)

Carl Lee is later arrested at his home by black sheriff Ozzie Walls and charged with capital murder. Despite the efforts of the NAACP and local black leaders to persuade Carl Lee to retain their high-powered attorneys, Carl Lee elects to be represented by his friend Jake Tyler Brigance. Helping Jake on the case are his former boss Lucien Wilbanks, fellow attorney Harry Rex Vonner, and law student Ellen Roark, who has prior experience with death penalty cases. The prosecuting attorney is a man named Rufus Buckley, and the judge who will preside over the trial is white judge Omar Noose. Buckley hopes to win the case so as to gain the publicity that a win would generate, in hopes of being elected to a higher public office (governor). Like Buckley, Judge Noose lacks sympathy for Carl Lee, and he accordingly denies both bail and Jake's petition for a change of venue.

At the same time, Billy Ray Cobb's brother, Freddy Lee Cobb, is seeking revenge for Carl Lee's killing of his brother. To this end, Freddy enlists the help of the Mississippi branch of the KKK, which is led by Mississippi grand dragon Stump Sisson. Subsequently, a KKK member attempts to plant a bomb under Jake's porch, and Jake's secretary Ethel Twitty and her frail husband Bud are attacked by the KKK, killing Bud. On the day the trial begins, there is a riot outside the court building between the KKK and the area's black residents, and Stump Sisson is killed by a molotov cocktail. Believing that the black people were at fault, Freddy and the KKK increase their attacks. They begin to burn crosses throughout Clanton, and Jake's house is burnt down while Jake and his family are away. As a result, the National Guard is called to Canton to keep the peace during the trial. Undeterred, Freddy continues his efforts to get revenge for Billy Ray's death.

The case proceeds, and in the end, Jake presents a powerful closing statement. After lengthy deliberations, the jury acquits Carl Lee by reason of temporary insanity. Carl Lee returns to his family, and the story ends with Jake drinking margaritas with Lucien and Harry in his office, then descending to face the mob of reporters waiting for him.

Adaptations

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Source: Wikipedia

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