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A Time to Kill: A Novel Paperback – June 23, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This addictive tale of a young lawyer defending a black Vietnam war hero who kills the white druggies who raped his child in tiny Clanton, Mississippi, is John Grisham's first novel, and his favorite of his first six. He polished it for three years and every detail shines like pebbles at the bottom of a swift, sunlit stream. Grisham is a born legal storyteller and his dialogue is pitch perfect.

The plot turns with jeweled precision. Carl Lee Hailey gets an M-16 from the Chicago hoodlum he'd saved at Da Nang, wastes the rapists on the courthouse steps, then turns to attorney Jake Brigance, who needs a conspicuous win to boost his career. Folks want to give Carl Lee a second medal, but how can they ignore premeditated execution? The town is split, revealing its social structure. Blacks note that a white man shooting a black rapist would be acquitted; the KKK starts a new Clanton chapter; the NAACP, the ambitious local reverend, a snobby, Harvard-infested big local firm, and others try to outmaneuver Jake and his brilliant, disbarred drunk of an ex-law partner. Jake hits the books and the bottle himself. Crosses burn, people die, crowds chant "Free Carl Lee!" and "Fry Carl Lee!" in the antiphony of America's classical tragedy. Because he's lived in Oxford, Mississippi, Grisham gets compared to Faulkner, but he's really got the lean style and fierce folk moralism of John Steinbeck. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this lively novel, Grisham explores the uneasy relationship of blacks and whites in the rural South. His treatment is balanced and humane, if not particularly profound, slighting neither blacks nor whites. Life becomes complicated in the backwoods town of Clanton, Mississippi, when a black worker is brought to trial for the murder of the two whites who raped and tortured his young daughter. Everyone gets involved, from Klan to NAACP. Grisham's pleasure in relating the byzantine complexities of Clanton politics is contagious, and he tells a good story. There are touches of humor in the dialogue; the characters are salty and down-to-earth. An enjoyable book, which displays a respect for Mississippi ways and for the contrary people who live there. Recommended.
- David Keymer, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Utica
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: 20th Anniversary Edition
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Dell (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440245915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440245919
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,604 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, John Grisham was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby--writing his first novel. Born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and a homemaker, John Grisham as a child dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Realizing he didn't have the right stuff for a pro career, he shifted gears and majored in accounting at Mississippi State University. After graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.That might have put an end to Grishams hobby. However, he had already begun his next book, and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career. When he sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers, and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991.The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller. Grisham's success even renewed interest in A Time to Kill, which was republished in hardcover by Doubleday and then in paperback by Dell. This time around, it was a bestseller. Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one novel a year (his other books are The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Brethren, A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, The Summons, The King of Torts, Bleachers, The Last Juror, The Broker, Playing for Pizza, and The Appeal) and all of them have become international bestsellers. There are currently over 225 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 29 languages. Nine of his novels have been turned into films (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, A Painted House, The Runaway Jury, and Skipping Christmas), as was an original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man.

Photo credit Maki Galimberti

Customer Reviews

A great story that was well written.
Peg Walker
I've seen the movie a dozen times, but I'm just now getting to the book, which was way better, if that's possible.
A. Rayburn
It was hard to put the book down after reading the first few pages.
myra sides

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 142 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 25, 1996
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Finally, A Time to Kill, John Grisham's first novel, is a feature length movie. I just read this book, but I knew it was realeased in 1989. I'm only thirteen, and this was my first Grisham book.
In this story, Grisham hits us with a subject that most might not like to discuss: child rape. Ten-year old Tonya Hailey is brutally raped and almost killed by two drunken rednecks; perhaps the saddest and hardest part to get through with the addition of little Tonya's dream of her father running to get her. After this horrid crime is committed, Tonya's father, Carl Lee exacts vengeance on the two rednecks, and kills them. He is put on trial, and lawyer Jake Brigance is introduced to us. He takes Carl Lee's case and must face his hated enemy, Rufus Buckley, in court. The days leading to the trial are filled with KKK threats, riots between blacks and the KKK, and several other chills and spills. Finally, the trial comes and the small town of Clanton, where the trial is held, is occupated by journalists, soldiers, KKK members, and thousands of blacks, as they all wait for the verdict on the edge of their seats..
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Danaë on August 17, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"A Time to Kill" is John Grisham's first novel, but unless you read the foreword, it's not readily apparent. His fluid, detailed storytelling is unlike the choppy first attempts of many modern authors. (At times it may seem he pays *too* much attention to details, but after all, he *is* a lawyer.)
In a small town in the Deep South, two redneck hooligans rape and maim a ten-year-old black girl. Enraged, the girl's father, Carl Lee Hailey, takes justice into his own hands, killing the two rapists in a courthouse shooting. He seeks the help of defense lawyer Jake Brigance to save him from the gas chamber. Brigance, a young but sharp lawyer, has to find a way to win an impossible case: a black man is on trial for killing two white men, and his case is being heard by an all-white jury. Adding to the mix are violence between the Ku Klux Klan and the black community, and the fact that, during the shooting, Carl Lee had injured a sheriff's deputy (who later had to have part of his leg amputated).
Throughout the book, the odds stack against Brigance and his client, and the novel will definitely keep you turning the pages. No matter what your personal opinions on the death penalty or vigilante justice are, you won't be disappointed. As Jake's mentor, disbarred lawyer Lucien Wilbanks, says, "If you win this case, justice will prevail, but if you lose it, justice will also prevail."
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on August 15, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm sure you've read the story synopsis, so I won't bore you with it.

So why did I give it 5 stars? In short, it's a legal thriller at its best. The main character, Jake Brigance - defense lawyer for Carl Lee Hailey, is hardly endearing - he's openly hateful towards his secretary, lies to his wife, submits to the temptation of alcohol when the heat comes down. However, in reality, it makes the character more real - nobody's perfect, everyone has their dark sides. Sure, he's hounding after the publicity at first, but he also comes to care about the fate of his client, and while he flirts with his law clerk (always got a chuckle out of "Row Ark") he doesn't submit to THAT temptation and stays true to his wife.

The topic is interesting - how the law should treat a vigilante killer. Yet deeper than that is the fundamental question of equality of treatment between whites and blacks in the law. Yes, the law itself holds all people as equal, but it's the eyes of the 12 jury members that really determines the guilt or innocence of a person.

The characters are well crafted - not all likeable, but at least, for the most part, believable. The pace of the story nicely snowballs - adding in essential tension with the addition of the Klu Klux Klan's involvement in the proceedings.

So it certainly deserves the 5 stars and I thoroughly recommend it it anyone (which is more than I can say for the movie adaptation, but that's another story!)
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By F. G. Hamer on August 3, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A Time to Kill is, in my opinion, Grisham's finest work (standing just a little higher that The Firm). It was also Grisham's first book and I read somewhere that he had it privately published because, at the time, no-one would touch it. (Shows what unknown struggling authors have to put up with, doesn't it!). Anyway, the good news is that, after Grisham hit the top-sellers lists, A Time to Kill was republished and it, too, became a bestseller.
It's a gripping tale of a young lawyer defending a black Vietnam war hero who has killed two white men (who raped his daughter). The tale is a mixture of the Grisham-style legal story and of America's tragic history of slavery and black repression. Grisham tells the story perfectly. His dialogue is spot on. There is one, superb passage where the local reverend is preaching to his flock. If you can imagine a 'Blues Brothers' type of scenario with 'I have seen the light' coming from the congretation as the preacher winds them up, you'll get the picture.
Carl Lee Hailey (the Vietnam war veteran) gets hold of an M-16, kills the rapists on the courthouse steps, then turns for help to attorney Jake Brigance. Some of the local folk want to give Carl Lee a second medal for his action, but premeditated murder is hard to ignore, and anyway, the town is divided. Blacks note that a white man shooting a black rapist would be acquitted. The KKK turns up the heat. The NAACP gets involved. Due to the publicity, a big local firm of lawyers get in on the act and try to outmaneuver Jake. Jake has a secret weapon though - his brilliant, but disbarred ex-partner.
As Amazon's own review says�'Crosses burn, people die, crowds chant "Free Carl Lee!" and "Fry Carl Lee!" in the antiphony of America's classical tragedy.' A superb book. A wonderful story, brilliantly written.
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