The courtroom dialog was great and the tension was great. What kept me from giving the book higher marks was that I cannot condone what the father did, since he shot the innocent police officer. I found how Grisham downplayed the shooting of the cop to be a major omission of the book.
The only justified homicide to me is in a self-defense situation. If the father had shot the men in the act of attacking his daughter, then I would have felt his actions justified. He did not even wait for the trial to play out before he decided to be judge, jury, and executioner.
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The plot turns with jeweled precision. Carl Lee Hailey gets an M-16 from the Chicago hoodlum he'd saved at Da Nang, wastes the rapists on the courthouse steps, then turns to attorney Jake Brigance, who needs a conspicuous win to boost his career. Folks want to give Carl Lee a second medal, but how can they ignore premeditated execution? The town is split, revealing its social structure. Blacks note that a white man shooting a black rapist would be acquitted; the KKK starts a new Clanton chapter; the NAACP, the ambitious local reverend, a snobby, Harvard-infested big local firm, and others try to outmaneuver Jake and his brilliant, disbarred drunk of an ex-law partner. Jake hits the books and the bottle himself. Crosses burn, people die, crowds chant "Free Carl Lee!" and "Fry Carl Lee!" in the antiphony of America's classical tragedy. Because he's lived in Oxford, Mississippi, Grisham gets compared to Faulkner, but he's really got the lean style and fierce folk moralism of John Steinbeck. --Tim Appelo