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    I am a huge fan of John Grisham. All it took was one book to get me hooked. I have liked everything I've read so far, to varying degrees, although they all had parts that I thought could have been written differently, except perhaps The Pelican Brief, which I thought was his most perfect book that I've read to this point.
    I liked this one, but it presented some serious issues that made it go downhill as it progressed toward the end. Not that it wasn't one of Grisham's typical edge-of-the-seat-page-turners. That it was. "Fabian {Councillor}," one of the Good Readers at Goodreads, summed up part of the problem. Here's a bit of his review:

Might this premise deliver storytelling material for so many pages? Yes, it might. Only . . . it didn't. Shortly after Gary Su Jake Brigance assumed his duty of defending his client, the novel drifted away into long-winded, boring and insignificant rambling. Many people claim this story to be very realistic for how the situation for black people in Mississippi during the 1980's was like. I have never lived there, so I have no idea how real it really was, but the way Jake Brigance acted and behaved definitely did not feel realistic to me. Because who doesn't get royally drunk three days before an important trial? Never before have I been that frustrated by a protagonist who behaved like an asshole towards his wife and just about everyone else he encountered, but was still portrayed like the absolute hero. Throw an incapable prosecutor into the game to make Brigance's light shine even brighter, and you have the perfect Grisham version of Fleming's James Bond.

    Now, Grisham revels in making attorneys look like assholes. It is one of his trademarks that inserts subtle humor into his storyline. But a couple points here. First, the nature of this one is perhaps more serious than some of his later novels. And he usually doesn't make his hero look that foolish. It's funny when the opposing attorneys look retarded, but not the main character. And I'm not sure why he turned him into a drunk when through half of the book he didn't touch a drop. And there are other things. I realize the KKK was a big issue in the south, but they were literally able to get away with murder, and it didn't seem like much was being done to apprehend them. This took place in the fictional town of Clanton in fictional Ford County, Mississippi, where many of Grisham's novels are set, in 1984. Was the KKK that prevalent even at that late date? (Grisham is from Mississippi.) I admit, I knew very little about them, so I did a bit of research. I strongly suggest you read the Wikipedia page linked above. It is very long, but very interesting. I read it in its entirety. Then we wonder why there is so much hatred in this country and on this planet. But, oh, we must not forget—here in the U.S.A., we have freedoms, so terrorists such as the KKK have the right to exist. Of course, if one of us dares to speak out against government and military criminal behavior, we are the conspiracy theorists and terrorists—the bad guys. It's all so fucked, isn't it? Here's the first paragraph from the article. That's a pretty good chunk of us, isn't it?

The Ku Klux Klan, commonly shortened to the KKK or the Klan, is the name of several historical and current American white supremacist, far-right terrorist organizations and hate groups. The Klan was "the first organized terror movement in American history." Their primary targets are African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Italian Americans, Irish Americans, and Catholics, as well as immigrants, leftists, homosexuals, Muslims, atheists and abortion providers.

    And there were other little things, like his total disregard for the safety of his dog. I have a tendency to not be too captivated with any characters in any book that is supposed to be a hero, who is disrespectful of animals, at least in more modern era books. OK, well, I guess this book isn't that modern any more. Time flies, does it not?
    This was the first book written by Grisham while he was a practicing lawyer, and published in 1989, after he spent three years writing it, so he says in his 1992 Author's Note. Grisham began writing it in 1984 when he was just three years out of law school. He writes that it is autobiographical (Oh, my, I hope he never behaved like Jake Brigance!) He wrote that he spent many hours in courtrooms observing good lawyers, but one particular case sickened him—that of a young girl testifying against a man that brutally raped her, which was his inspiration for this story. (And he also credits Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. I have that one in my "to read soon" box.)
    It was not a particularly good seller until Grisham wrote his second novel, The Firm, that generated a renewed interest in this one, which then became a best-seller. It was later made into a movie and stage play. Grisham also wrote two sequels much later on. Here is the Wikipedia page for the book. This is John Grisham's Wikipedia page, and here's his Index Page, where you can read all the reviews I've written on his books so far.
     As with most of Grisham's books, this one is rather long, but because of its nature, one can fly through it. In keeping with my policy of not revealing much about murder/mystery type books, this review will only reveal the necessary facts so that readers know what it is about. As with most well-written books in this genre, there are twists and turns to keep readers in suspense, so I won't write about any surprises.
    As mentioned above, the story revolves around the rape of a young girl. Unlike Grisham's actual court experience, here, the little girl is Black and is repeatedly raped tortured and beaten, by two White redneck drunks/drug addicts, and eventually left to die. She is found, barely alive bought home, then taken to the hospital.
    OK, so this is a gruesome novel, truly. And I know that we still have FAR to go in eradicating racial issues in this country, and I'm sure that back in the 1980s the situation in the south was probably very bad if you were Black. But I got tired of reading the "N" word, which I find offensive. I grew up in a home where I never heard a disparaging word spoken about any race or ethnic group of people. Ever. I was taught to treat everyone with respect, so it wasn't until I was a young adult in college that it finally dawned on me that people hated other people because their skin was a different color. I couldn't wrap my mind around it then, and now, decades later, I still can't. So this whole subject of racism has always been bewildering to me. This book is a serious statement on racism.
    It begins as these two pieces of sewage bacteria are in the process of defiling this poor innocent ten-year-old child. Billy Ray Cobb, at age 23, is a seasoned criminal, having spent time in Parchman, the state penitentiary for drug dealing. Didn't do much good. He is rich. Paid cash for a brand-new pickup—custom-built four-wheel-drive. His partner, Pete Willard, up until this point has been basically harmless, never in serious trouble and not too bright. He gets drugs from Billy Ray.
    Meanwhile Gwen Hailey is frantic. She had sent Tonya for groceries nearby because she knew she could count on her, and the boys were being punished by their father. But Tonya never returned. She calls Carl Lee who works at the paper mill, then she and Carl Lee, Jr. drive around looking for her, to no avail. Finally Carl Lee returns home to find his drive full of cars, including a patrol car. Tonya had been found in the road and was conscious enough to tell the men where she lived. She is taken to the hospital. Her face has been beaten to a pulp, her jaw broken in several places, bleeding from ankles to forehead, obviously in critical condition.
    Ozzie Walls is the only Black sheriff in Mississippi, beloved by both Blacks and Whites. By Tonya's description of the yellow pickup, Ozzie has a clue who did it. He calls on Bobby Bumpous—on parole and basically clean, who does little jobs for Ozzie. This time he's sent to a local honky-tonk, where Billy Ray hangs out. There, Bobby finds him bragging about what they did to that little "nigger" girl. Both he and Pete are arrested.
    Ozzie and another officer interrogate Pete first. They explain to him that if they are found guilty, they will be sent to Parchman. Then they explain, in graphic detail, what the Black inmates there do to a White man who has raped a little Black girl, as the guards watch. OMG! Use your imagination. Ozzie is more interested in getting rid of the white plague Billy Ray. Pete cooperates and signs a confession.
    Next we learn all about attorney Jake Brigance, his wife Carla and their little girl, Hanna. They are deep in debt from restoring a Victorian home. Jake is young, but a good lawyer with a good reputation. He rents a beautiful building right near the courthouse, owned by Lucien Willbanks, whose family of lawyers at one time owned Clanton. Lucien was a radical and participated in all the civil rights activities. He was a member of the NAACP. But he was also a drunk, and his increasingly unacceptable behavior got him disbarred. He was the last remaining male of his generation. He suddenly disappeared, then just as suddenly, reappeared. He had gone to the Cayman Islands and returned relaxed and sober. He took Jake under his wing. Filthy rich, he gave Jake the building, his library—everything, including his bitchy secretary for a very low rent. He suggested Jake keep Ethel because she has forgotten more law than he'll ever know. Now Lucien is an old man with a matted beard, who drinks his breakfast, lunch and dinner. The thing is, Lucien, having come from a long line of Clanton lawyers, knows everything and everyone. He is a good friend to Jake and supplies invaluable information.
    But the story really isn't about Billy Ray Cobb and Pete Willard. It is about Carl Lee. His brother Lester murdered a man, and Jake got him acquitted. Carl Lee asks him if he could do the same for him. Because he plans to take justice into his own hands. Jake tells him not to do it, but he also knows in his heart that he or any daddy with a little girl would probably kill anyone who did that to their child. Jake said that the man Lester killed needed to be dead.
    Lester drives down from Chicago. He is married to a White woman—a Swede, and has a good job. They begin planning revenge. Carl Lee has a "friend" whose life he saved in Vietnam. This friend is a millionaire who owns a line of strip joints and everything he does is "legal" except for what isn't, and that's quite a bit. Carl Lee and Lester pay him a visit, where an M16 is easily placed in the trunk of his car.
    Carl Lee and Lester work out the details, including a floor plan of the courthouse. Carl Lee hides in the men's room until it closes and is locked up, then he begins exploring. (With all the surveillance being used now, he never could have gotten away with that today!) He discovers an old, unused janitor closet right near the steps where Billy Ray and Pete will be led down after their bond hearing. Since Tonya did not die in the hospital, and is expected to fully recover, they have not been charged with murder.
    But soon Carl Lee will be. As the deputies lead the handcuffed rapists down the back stairs, Carl Lee jumps out of the closet and loads them full of bullets until their bodies are a pulp. (Their fate would have been much worse at Parchman.) Unfortunately, he accidentally hits one of the officers in the leg. Ozzie comes to arrest him. Without handcuffs, he's led into the patrol car. Jake, of course, is hired as his lawyer.
    And so the real story begins. It is not so much about a man taking revenge on two boys that violated his little girl, it is about the fact that a Black man did this to White boys. The theme throughout the story more revolves around the question of whether this "crime" would have gotten the national attention it did if the avenger was White, and the rapists, Black. The town of Clanton is more White than Black, so Jake has his challenge in trying to find a jury that would make a just decision.
    Meanwhile, some helpful people surround Jake, on the positive side, and on the negative, the KKK gets involved, forming a Clanton chapter with the help of Billy Ray's relatives and friends. First come the threats, then the action, not against Blacks, but against the "nigger-loving" Whites, which includes Jake and his family, the judge, and others involved in the case. I cannot imagine living somewhere that hate groups such as this exist. And they still do, of course. I always think, isn't it about time to put an end to this? But it only gets worse, doesn't it, in this Death Culture we live in.
    One other trademark of Grisham is that he is pretty blatant about all the corruption in the U.S. judicial system. That is also often another means of subtle humor, but sadly, we all know it is true, and also getting much worse. In addition, he exposes the corruption in the churches and other organizations, such as the NAACP.
    I always make marks for what I want to quote in the margin as I'm taking notes, and I filled up many pages for this one. I find if I write things down, they stick in my mind, so writing the review goes quickly and smoothly. However, I only marked a few passages to quote. This is one. Here, one of the White members of the grand jury, a guy named Crowell, an unemployed truck driver, grills Sheriff Ozzie Walls. Crowell is way too smart to be on a grand jury, and his goal is to not indict Carl Lee. He fails by one vote. We find out later, why he is so adamant to free Carl Lee. First he asks Ozzie if he has a little girl. He does. Then he asks him what he would do if someone raped her. Buckley is the district attorney.

Ozzie paused and looked anxiously at Buckley, whose neck had turned a deep red.
"I don't have to answer that," Ozzie replied.
"Is that so. You came before this grand jury to testify, didn't you? You're a witness, ain't you? Answer the question."
"I don't know what I'd do."
"Come on, Sheriff. Give us a straight answer. Tell the truth. What would you do?"
Ozzie felt embarrassed,confused, and angry at this stranger. He would like to tell the truth, and explain in detail how he would gladly castrate and mutilate and kill any person who touched his little girl. But he couldn't. The grand jury might agree and refuse to indict Carl Lee. Not that he wanted him indicted, but he knew the indictment was necessary. He looked sheepishly at Buckley, who was perspiring and seated now.

    And that's all I will say about the story. You will have to read it to find out the rest. Do I recommend it? Yes, with reservations and warnings. Books such as this aren't meant for everyone. I was surprised, but pleased, at the very mixed reviews it received at Goodreads. I think I would have been disturbed had everyone given it four or five stars.

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