Nothing moves quickly in the run up to the trial, and big sections of the first three quarters of the novel drag if your investment in Clanton and its inhabitants is limited. Grisham returns often to the question of whether a murder can justified, but never really wrestles with the knotty stuff - there’s a lot of dancing around the edges. Of course the courtroom scenes are excellent. But an adoption sub-plot is handled badly (or at the best, oddly) and a secondary court storyline fades into nothingness. One for fans only.
There is a lot of Grisham in Brigance — they were both street lawyers on the side of the people, not big corporations. It gives the book an emotional core that burns with a white heat.
This time he is defending a backwards teenager, Drew Gable, who shot a popular cop who was abusing his family and who Drew thought had killed his mother. Some folk feel sympathy, but most want to hang him high. The story has little new to say, however, and even the courtroom scenes lack drama. Grisham may have to settle for having written The Firm, a genuinely original and suspenseful thriller, rather than being this generation’s William Faulkner or Harper Lee.
In Grisham’s novel, we know whodunnit from the outset: Drew, a teenager with learning difficulties, shot his mother Josie’s abusive partner, Stuart, believing that Stuart’s latest drunken attack had left Josie dead. What’s in doubt is whether Jake Brigance, the author’s favourite Mississippi lawyer, can get Drew off, because Stuart was a model cop in his sober working hours. The bulk of Brigance’s third outing is as gripping and multilayered as A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row, but loses energy and impetus mid-trial, as if Grisham suddenly tires of the con tricks and theatrics of legal fiction.