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A Time to Kill Book Summary and Review: Grisham’s Megahit That Got Banned

Please get yourself checked for those who have tagged A Time to Kill book as a masterpiece. I would have never believed John Grisham could write something so cringe until I read this so-called BREATHTAKING novel.

Don’t get me wrong. A Time to Kill has an emotional side and Grisham talks about some sensitive points. Yet, I cannot deny the crap he has written on some pages.

A Time to Kill Book Summary

It does not surprise me at all that this book from the John Grisham series was a flop in the beginning. A Time to Kill only got attention after the success of The Firm. Critics started rating A Time to Kill book with 5-star reviews out of nowhere (Give them a ticket to Whitfield. IYKYK).

Hey! Don’t feel disheartened just yet. I am just venting, alright?

A Time to Kill book is not that bad. Continue reading this bittersweet review, and all my blabbering will make sense. And yes, I have also watched the “A Time to Kill” movie. So, make sure to read the book vs. movie section at the end.

A Time to Kill Summary for Readers in A Hurry (Yes, Spoilers Included)

A Time to Kill (1989)

Are you sad seeing the spoiler alert? Okay, don’t be. Let me tell you the story (without spoilers) in 3 sentences before we go into detail.

A 10-year-old black girl gets raped by two white men. The victim’s father, Carl Lee, kills the rapists, and the case becomes a hot topic in the town. Jake, the lawyer, proves Carl not guilty and saves him from facing the gas chamber.

Don’t worry. The plot could be flatter. It has some twists and turns hidden here and there. Get more of the story below.

Rape & The Murder Is the Talk of The Town

The story starts with the introduction of Bill Ray Cobb, an ex-convict and the local drug king of Clanton. Cobb has been released from prison only recently, and he is already in deep shitty business.

Cobb enjoys the company of James Pete Willard, his best pal. Willard is dumb, for sure. But Cobb does not complain.

The plot moves as these two rats are seen having some fun with a nigger (in their language). Let me tell you exactly what the fun was.

Willard and Cobb kidnap a young black girl (10 years old), Tonya Hailey, who is on her way to bring some groceries from the shop. No, this best friend duo did not ask for a ransom (that would be way better).

They rape and beat Tonya continuously (I definitely do not want to go into the details. That was triggering even for me).

Later, these bastards try to kill Tonya by lynching her but fail at first. So, throwing her off from a bridge seems a better idea for them.

Tonya’s family soon finds her little body covered in blood. This news of rape travels faster than light, and the entire black neighborhood breaks out. They come forward and stand beside the Hailey Family.

Carl Lee Hailey, Tonya’s father, can’t accept the fact that her 10-year-old girl got raped because she is black. He seeks justice but is sure Cobb and Willard will walk free if they use power.

Even though Ozzie Walls, the black sheriff, consoles Carl Lee and ensures justice, he refuses to believe anything. Carl Lee is too upset and furious to think straight.

Our protagonist, Jake Brignance, enters the plot between all this fuss. Jake is a reputed white lawyer and a friend of the black.

Apparently, he is well-connected to the Hailey family. A few years back, Jake represented Lester Hailey, Carl Lee’s brother, in a murder case and proved him not guilty. When he hears the news, he gets emotional as he has a daughter half the age of Tonya.

The state is prosecuting Cobb and Willard. Ozzie scares Willard, the dumb, and makes him confess the crime. When Cobb and Willard’s lawyer appeals for bail, the judge intentionally sets the amount so high that they can’t pay.

Amidst all these dramas, Carl Lee confronts Jake and blurs out his plan. Carl Lee Hailey has decided to take those two bastards down. Even though Jake advises him to do otherwise, Carl Lee is not in the right mental state now.

Carl, with his brother Lester, comes up with a murder plan and manages an M-16 from an old friend. Then, one day, after the preliminary hearing, Carl Lee shoots Cobb and Willard from a shade. The rats drop dead like flies.

But an unexpected casualty occurs as a deputy, Looney, gets shot, too.

The Arrest of The Accused & A Defense Lawyer on The Rescue

Ozzie arrests Carl Lee, who seems prepared for his jail time. Later, he appoints Jake as his defense lawyer.

Of course, Jake Brigrance is more than interested in this hot case. Everyone in the town is talking about this double murder plus rape.

Even the media is chasing this case like a mad dog. Jake Brigrance will soon become the face you see on the front page of your newspaper and every other channel on TV.

A Time to Kill Chapter Summary

Even though Jake is willing to take a bullet for this case, he can’t do it for free. After all, he has a family to feed and an office to run. Though Jake pays a little for his lavish office (Thanks to Lucian, a disbarred drunk rich brat), he is still strict on the fees.

Apparently, Carl Lee is broke as hell and can only afford $900. Jake gives him a huge discount and settles on $7000. However, it is still too much for Carl Lee.

Jake seems quite frustrated about the money. He plans to prove Carl Lee not guilty based on insanity. But if he has no money, how can they move forward? Things got heated between Carl Lee and Jake on this topic.

As I said, everyone in the town was interested in this case. “A Nigger got raped by white goons.” “Her dad shot the rapists in the court.” Come on! This white vs. black used to sell like hotcakes back in the ’80s.

So, soon, the news crosses the border, and now the entire nation is interested. A top criminal lawyer from Memphis, Bo Marsharfsky, grabs the opportunity and approaches Carl Lee.

He wants to fight for Carl free of cost. Already tensed about money, this is the best deal Carl has ever heard of. He does not hesitate twice to fire Jake and appoint Bo Marsharfsky.

Little did Carl know Marsharfsky did not have half the dedication towards the case as Jake did.

While Carl waits to meet his new lawyer, Marsharfsky is too busy handling his cases in Memphis. So, Carl Lee is stuck and does not know what to do. Finally, he breaks the silence and requests Jake to return his case.

Jake is already pissed. He wants Carl Lee to beg because of the humiliation. But in the end, Jake takes the case anyway. After all, he is obsessed with it.

The Courtroom Drama We’ve Been Waiting For

As the plot unfolds, the black community raises money for Hailey’s family and shows their support. But do not underestimate the whites.

Cobb was a redneck and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. His people decide to attack Jake, his home, his secretary, clerk, police officer, Carl Lee, and even the juror to scare them.

But Jake is not a quitter. He sends his family out of Clanton and fights everything coming his way.

On trial, the appointed psychiatrist proves Carl Lee Hailey mentally unstable. He requests the juror to declare Carl not guilty based on insanity.

The opposition, D.A. Rufus Buckley, is no child. He charges the doctor, surfacing his past. Apparently, the doctor was accused of a rape case in his school days.

Bringing up this information is irrelevant. Yet, it questions the psychiatrist’s judgment and impression of the juror.

Rufus requests that Carl Lee be treated by another psychiatrist and enters Dr. Bass to the scene. Bass’s verdict is simple. Carl Lee is not insane, and he killed those two white men in a proper mental state. Hence, he should be declared guilty.

What did you think? Will Jake tolerate this drama? No! It is his time to have some fun with Dr. Bass.

Jake brings up the past state cases where Bass was appointed as a psychiatrist. The accused in all these cases were declared guilty because Bass suggested they were sane.

Bass was stubborn about the decision even though other doctors diagnosed them as mentally unstable.

Soon after the trial, most of these so-called criminals would end up in Whitfield, a mental asylum. How can the juror take a word from such a CAPABLE doctor?

Jake ends his closing statement on an emotional note. He requests the juror to walk in Carl’s shoes and then make a decision.

And guess what? The judgment goes in favor of Carl Lee Hailey. He is found not guilty based on insanity. Our protagonist, Jake, wins, after all.

My Take on A Time to Kill Book Summary: Disappointment or Tolerable?

Trust me. I have much to say on A Time to Kill summary, both good and bad. Why don’t we start with what I liked about the book?

Grisham Deserves an Award for These

See, the plot of A Time to Kill is set in the 80’s. The blacks didn’t have any equal rights, and they barely received justice. Though the American Govt. has issued full rights for the blacks, the whites are still struggling to accept the fact.

No wonder we had to fight “Black Lives Matter” even in 2020.

With this novel, John Grisham took the stage and showed the story of black people.

How ill-treated were the blacks? You can guess it from Cobb’s dialogue, “Niggers generally could not be killed by kicking and beating and raping. It took much more, something like a knife or a gun or a rope, to dispose of a nigger.”

Come on, guys. Black people are as human as white, and they deserve a minimum of respect. Even though John Grisham portrayed the scenario in the 80’s, I think this is still relevant. It is high time we stood against racism.

Though the black vs. white takes up most of the attention, you can’t overlook the hard-hitting emotion hidden in the book. John Grisham didn’t hesitate to show the father’s love for his daughter.

It doesn’t matter which class the father belongs to. But if someone does wrong to his girl, he will not think twice about tearing that bastard apart.

I definitely do not support violence. However, if you see rapists walking free, what else can you do other than to punish them yourselves? I personally do not believe Carl Lee has done anything wrong. When the Judicial system can’t ensure justice, he has to get justice by himself.

I think Grisham has the guts to talk about such a case openly in 1989, along with his very first novel. You have my respect for John Grisham!

Things That Have Bored Me

Hah! Apart from the writing style and the social cause or emotional angle, I found the novel boring. I have read Pelican Brief in one sitting. But with A Time to Kill, I had to drag myself through the pages.

John Grisham has wasted so many pages with crappy descriptions, nothing of those matters. Why do I care about the in-depth visual narrative of Jake’s Victorian house? Dude, there is a man on trial. Shouldn’t we focus on that?

The plot started on a high note. I was terrified and panicking over the first few pages when the rape and murder took place. It all just went flat afterward. Everyone was too busy to handle the fame and keep their records straight.

I have no complaints about Grisham’s delivery. But most parts of this novel were irrelevant or, should I say, unnecessary. Grisham could have taken the authority and brought more depth and suspense to the book for sure.

Characters to Remember from A Time to Kill Book

Whenever I read a novel, there will be some characters I absolutely love. Take Tammy Hemphill, an underrated secretary from The Firm by John Grisham. Unfortunately, there is no such wow character in A Time to Kill book.

A Time to Kill Summary and Character Analysis

Grisham was too lousy to build any real personality in this novel. Well, at least, this is what I believe. Another reason can be that no character in the book has enough screen time to charm the reader.

Some characters in A Time to Kill book have tremendous potential and can rise as individuals. For example, Cobb and Willard are the villains. But a glimpse of their traumatic past that has led them to commit such heinous crimes will give some base to these names.

Let’s leave the dead and talk about the living characters of A Time to Kill.

Jake Brignance

I carry mixed feelings for Jake Brignance. His going to the black coffee shop made it clear that he was not a racist. But I didn’t understand why he took Hailey’s case. Was it because of the fame, or did he truly care for the cause?

Jake’s nagging for money was so irritating. On one hand, he was showing off his luxurious car and house. The next moment, he was yelling at Carl for cash despite knowing his condition.

No, I do not blame Jake for anything. He was practical enough, but this character confused me at several points.

We had explored Jake’s emotional side over the case, his love for people and his family. He was stubborn, rough, sassy, but honest. This may be why I could not hate Jake despite his arrogant behavior.

Carl Lee Hailey

I do not think we are capable enough of judging Carl Lee. We would have done the same if our families were the victims.

Carl Lee Hailey was strong and brave. I do not doubt this. But he was underconfident. To establish justice, you must have a spine to stand by it. Carl Lee’s character deserved a stronger voice.

Ozzie & Lucian

I didn’t understand Ozzie on some points. He was dutiful, for sure. He didn’t hesitate to arrest Carl after the murder. If it were my acquaintance and I were the sheriff, the story might be untrue.

When you think Ozzie is against Carl and crime, you will catch this sheriff offering extra care to the accused. Is that even allowed? Ozzie was a team Carl from the very beginning. He had a good morale. But I doubt his actions as a sheriff.

Lucian, Jake’s apparent Godfather, is too generous. He is the reason Jake stands a foot in the city. Though Lucian was disbarred, he was an excellent lawyer.

Grisham has written Lucian to add support for Jake. Lucian was good and all. But his only purpose in A Time to Kill book was to be a guardian angel to Jake.

A Time to Kill: Movie Was Better?

I hate to admit it. But I enjoyed A Time to Kill movie more than the book. Yes, yes. I am always Team Book. Yet, the novel is a disappointment.

I believe the useless information on the pages was why the A Time to Kill book felt like a suicidal mission. Luckily, I didn’t have to bear those scenes on the screen.

Matthew McConaughey had played Jake, and he was clearly the star. He left no stone unturned to make the character as involved as possible.

Well, his attempts were successful to an extent. Casting Samuel L. Jackson as Carl Lee Hailey was also a wise decision. He had perfectly played the emotional yet vital father role.

What gave the movie a thumbs-up was Jake’s closing statement. The director had done an excellent job of turning the flat script into a spicy trial fight. The courtroom dramas look more intense on the screen anyway. I would give the movie a 4 and the book a 3.5.

Why Was a Time to Kill Banned?

A Time to Kill book is a commercial success. The book and the movie caught more eyeballs when the book was banned after 2000. Apparently, the rape and violence were triggering the readers.

Also, sparing the life of Carl Lee, who killed people in cold blood, was sending the wrong message.

The ban has been lifted now, and the book is sold worldwide. I can still hear people arguing that this novel is preaching rape, slang, and violence.

Hold on to that thought. A Time to Kill book is no fairy tale. Grisham got the inspiration from one of his cases where a 10-year-old was raped.

It means this can be a reality you are living in. Discussing such sensitive topics with our young generation will make us sensible and rational, not violent.

Do I Recommend a Time to Kill?

I wouldn’t say A Time to Kill book is a masterpiece or a must-read. But if you have some free time and you enjoy courtroom drama, then go ahead. I must warn you. At one point, the book got so boring that I wanted to quit.

However, Grisham raised the stake in the last hundred pages. So, just survive to that point and you can enjoy a thrilling courtroom drama. In case, you do not want that torture, just watch the movie. It will save you enough time to read a book that is worth your attention.

Struggling to find such a book? Visit our website. Here you will find novels as per categories and choose the one that suits your current mood.