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A Time For Mercy

by John Grisham

Publishers Weekly At the start of bestseller Grisham’s disappointing third outing for attorney Jake Brigance (after 2013’s Sycamore Row), deputy sheriff Stu Kofer comes home one night in 1990 to the isolated house outside Clanton, Miss., he shares with his lover, Josie. In a drunken rage, Kofer falsely accuses Josie of infidelity, and knocks her unconscious. Kofer falls asleep after a half-hearted attempt to break into the room of Josie’s 14-year-old daughter, Kiera, whom he has sexually abused. Josie’s 16-year-old son, Drew, believes his unresponsive mother is dead, and fears Kofer will attack Kiera. After dialing 911 to report Josie’s murder, Drew takes the sleeping lawman’s service weapon and shoots him in the head. A judge taps Brigance to defend Drew after the teenager is charged with intentional homicide. As Brigance prepares his case, he learns a secret that he hopes will bolster his chances in court. The high-profile murder trial that follows, however, doesn’t live up to the promise of the book’s harrowing opening: the prosecuting attorney proves a weak opponent for Brigance, and the tepid courtroom proceedings fail to engage. This one’s for Grisham diehards only. Agent: David Gernert, Gernert Co. (Oct.)

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Kirkus A small-town Mississippi courtroom becomes the setting for a trademark Grisham legal tussle. Stuart Kofer is not a nice guy. He drinks way too much and likes to brawl. One night, coming home in a foul mood with a blood alcohol count more than triple the legal limit, he breaks his live-in girlfriend’s jaw. He’s done terrible things to her children, too—and now her 16-year-old boy, Drew, puts an end to the terror. Unfortunately for the kid in a place where uniforms are worshipped, Stu was a well-liked cop. “Did it really matter if he was sixteen or sixty? It certainly didn’t matter to Stu Kofer, whose stock seemed to rise by the hour,” writes Grisham of local opinion about giving Drew the benefit of the doubt. Jake Brigance, the hero of the tale, is a lawyer who’s down to his last dime until a fat wrongful-death case is settled. It doesn’t help his bank book when the meaningfully named Judge Omar Noose orders him to defend the kid. Backed by a brilliant paralegal whose dream is to be the first Black female lawyer in the county, he prepares for what the local sheriff correctly portends will be “an ugly trial” that may well land Drew on death row. As ever, Grisham capably covers the mores of his native turf, from gun racks to the casual use of the N-word. As well, he examines Bible Belt attitudes toward abortion and capital punishment as well as the inner workings of the courtroom, such as jury selection: “What will your jury look like?” asks a trial consultant, to which Jake replies, “A regular posse. It’s rural north Mississippi, and I’ll try to change venue to another county simply because of the notoriety.” The story runs on a touch long, as Grisham yarns tend to do, and it gets a bit gory at times, but the level of tension is satisfyingly high all the way to the oddly inconclusive end. Grisham fans will be pleased, graphic details of evil behavior and all. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list Set five years after the events of Grisham’s first novel, 1989’s A Time to Kill (and a couple of years after its sequel, 2013’s Sycamore Row), this new Jake Brigance novel finds the Mississippi lawyer roped into defending a 16-year-old boy charged with the murder of a police deputy. The reader knows from the beginning the circumstances surrounding the fatal incident: there is no doubt who did what to whom and why. And, yet, the book is impossible to put down because we're fascinated by how Jake will overcome the many obstacles in his path to discovering what we already know. It’s really a very clever setup; the story's structure bears a slight resemblance to an episode of Columbo, in which the viewer knows more than the detective at the beginning of the episode. Grisham builds a complex, surprising, and, in places, emotionally devastating story around Jake and his teenage client. A Time for Mercy isn’t a whodunit. It’s not even really a courtroom drama, although, of course, Grisham delivers some seriously intense courtroom scenes. Ultimately, it’s a story about a community that values its secrets more than it values the truth, and Grisham tells it with great power and style.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Nearly everything Grisham writes draws readers by the millions, but his Jake Brigance mysteries are in a category all their own. This third Brigance outing will continue the pattern.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.