Court-appointed lawyer Jake Brigance—the hero of Grisham’s 1989 debut, A Time to Kill—puts his career, his financial security, and the safety of his family on the line to defend a sixteen-year-old suspect who is accused of killing a local deputy and facing the death penalty.
You get the feeling that Grisham, who has written several dozen books by now, has returned to the place closest to his heart ... This is a leisurely story, told by a master of plotting and pacing, and there’s no use in him or us rushing our way through it. Grisham puts us inside the heads not just of Jake and Drew, but also of an extended cast of characters ... The trial is riveting, but don’t expect anyone to burst into the courtroom at the last minute waving a piece of paper that upends the proceedings. The jurors aren’t secretly sleeping with the lawyers; the judge is not being paid off by the local crime boss. But it’s striking how suspenseful the story is anyway, how much we’re gripped by the small details ... And at a time when our opinions are terrifyingly polarized, Grisham reminds us that people aren’t one thing or another, but composed instead in shades of gray.
While there are lulls during some of the legal procedural bits, Grisham’s mastery of the courtroom thriller is never in question. As usual, he presents as smooth a read as you’ll ever experience. The dialogue is sharp and pointed, layered with genuine emotions that make the characters pop off the pages of this morally complex story.
... textbook Grisham — and that’s a compliment. Though its racial angle is underplayed, it is a briskly paced legal drama, with just the right amount of suspense, conflict (physical and otherwise), plot twists, courtroom theatrics and musings on legal ethics and lawyerly strategy ... As Brigance wrestles with that case as well as with his defense of Drew, Grisham’s love for the law, with all of its flaws and quirks, comes through on every page.