by John Grisham
Two rednecks abduct, torture and rape a ten year old black girl in a small Mississippi town. At their arraignment, the girl’s father blows them away with an M-16. He is taken into custody, and Jake Brigance, a young white solo practitioner who has some experience with defending poor blacks, comes to his defense. So begins a nightmare for Brigance and those around him, as the town is split in two, the Klan makes violent attempts on his life, the judicial system is stacked against him, and defeat looms as the trial’s end approaches.
It’s a very compelling first novel, better-written than his second, the unimpressive The Firm, and with all the thrills that The Summons lacked. Grisham delves into every seedy detail of the judicial system of Ford County, Mississippi, how politics and biased judges and money and votes and favors play a part in every step of the process. He introduces fully fleshed-out characters, with unsympathetic streaks in his hero and amusing backstories for the supporting cast. The end was a bit abrupt and shallow (just imagine the girl was white? That’s all it takes to dispel entrenched prejudices and bad feelings?), and left me feeling that a lot of ends were left way too loose (so, I guess the death threats never came to anything after the black guy was acquitted, they all lived happily ever after, the end) – but in all it was an admirable page-turner, richly evocative of the American south.