I’m as surprised as anyone by how much I absolutely hated this book. It really doesn’t have that much to redeem it. I’ve read some other Grisham books before, and I don’t recall them being this terrible. Almost every page had something new to make me irritated.
First, the plot was decent. So it has that going for it. But getting to the bones of the plot was this strange meandering journey, filled with random asides that were flushed out way more than needed and then completely discarded. I wondered why we had to know so much about Dell, the waitress at The Coffee Shop, when it wasn’t necessary at all to the plot or main characters. Certain aspects that were brought up would have aided in world building if they had come up earlier, and then referenced again later, but I felt like a bunch of things (like this really long aside about the secretaries getting lunch at 11:50 sharp in the square) completely stupid and unnecessary, and pushed back actually interesting things. Details are invented and then discarded, some things seem to contradict, and some are just downright confusing.
The book was also pretty offensive. Things like rape and racism need a gentle touch, and maybe the same story in another writer’s hands would have been amazing, but in Grisham’s hands it surely wasn’t. This is a story where a young black girl is raped and her father shoots the rapists and is on trial, but the protagonist is a white male lawyer. We are supposed to sympathize with him, as the womens and the blacks are all brushed off as intellectually subpar. But Jake Brigance is an arrogant jerk who is pretty unlikable. Really, he seems to be the definition of a douchebag. He treats his wife like a child, his clients like pests, and the law clerk that offers her services for free as a seductress, not to mention a bleeding heart liberal that doesn’t wear bras (it’s apparently very important to know that she DOESN’T WEAR A BRA – as it is repeated at least 4 times). The n-word is used so many times I felt like it was just randomly inserted as much as possible. I just feel kind of icky that these topics are being handled by a white man and without much grace.
I was amazed at the amount of typos there were in a book that is more than 25 years old, which has likely undergone several revisions. Some of it could be attributed to the transfer from page to ebook, as that is how I read it, but others where definitely spelling errors (venear isn’t a word). I was also jarred by the use of the term “Kluxer” instead of Klansman, which is what I’m used to seeing. A quick Google search shows that is has been in use before, but not much. So I’ll let that slide, but it’s a strange way to see it written. More than half of the chapters begins with the name of a random character, introducing that character, and going on to the main plot again. This device wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t keep happening over and over. It got to be really noticeable.
And the resolution. Generally, in a courtroom novel, the case builds and comes to a rising conclusion, typically with a major breakthrough or amazing closing argument. The main action of this lands “off screen”, and seems to be a non-sensical random chance. The reason the jury decides as they do almost makes no sense. It only ends that way because it is the best possible outcome. A lot of the loose ends just don’t get tied up or even mentioned, particularly in reference to the KKK. They just … leave? Well, okay then, I guess they weren’t serious about being a threat.
I plan to follow this up with a review of the film version (which is on its way) and a review of the follow-up novel by Grisham, entitled Sycamore Row. It was published in the past few years, so I want to see if it still is as terrible as this one, or if this one is just bad because it is the first book he ever wrote. For now, I’m left with a not very pleasant picture of Mr. Grisham.
This book fulfills the first book by a popular author requirement for the challenge.
Follow up reading: