“A Time for Mercy” by John Grisham
I hadn’t read a John Grisham novel for some time, but when I saw A Time for Mercy* I was really primed for a great lawyer-courtroom thriller. In that particular respect I wasn’t disappointed, but I had several other issues which seriously impacted my reading pleasure.
At 464 pages the book is too long, at least by a third if not by half. Grisham bulks the story up with an excessive amount or trivial detail that doesn’t move the plot forward. In fact it’s such a nuisance I often skipped over multiple paragraphs to get back to the story.
Even worse, the author repeats descriptions of people or events over and over, sometimes almost verbatim. I know it’s a good idea to recapitulate some salient points as plot reminders for the reader, but Grisham almost seems to have forgotten he had already written about the subject. Where’s the editor? And why didn’t one of them catch Grisham referring to the main character as Jack on page 44?
The narrative is flat as a pancake. Jake Brigance goes through a lot of changes but they seem to be ripples, not waves, in his life. [spoiler alert] In once scene he’s attacked by two men who beat the living crap out of him, sending him to the hospital. Jake seems to be emotionally un-impacted by the event, not only because he refuses to press charges but blithely la-di-das through his life without a concern in the world for the possibility of more retribution, not only for himself but his wife and young daughter.
Grisham has set himself quite a plot to resolve. As one gets into the latter chapters, it starts to look like Jake can’t get his client off the charges. This is not really handled like a cliffhanger-cum-sequel, but rather like the author kind of gave up on trying (sic) his defense, as he gave up on several other issues such as the safety of his family, his indebtedness, his cash-cow alt-case and why oh why he stays in this podunk Mississippi town for which he has no affection.
But perhaps the biggest gaffe Grisham makes is not altering a shift in the defense to one he himself mentions, one which might have really worked. I won’t drop another spoiler on you, but if you read the book and you find this alternate defense (it’s in Jake’s dialogue, talking to his attorney buddies) and want to discuss it, drop me a note: email@example.com Let’s see if we can come up an answer to why he didn’t pay it out. It’s a lazy, lazy ending to a long, long book.
And speaking of lazy, Grisham writes in the Acknowledgements that he apologizes for any, I guess, errors of fact or omission from the previous Jake Brigance novels, because, he says, “I’m just too lazy to go back and read the earlier books.” It’s bad enough that he didn’t do that, and even worse that he’s arrogant enough to admit it. No mercy for you, buddy.
*Purchased on Barnes & Noble online.
Next week on My Brain on Grape-Nuts: Attending a Literary Conference in the Age of COVID-19 and ZOOM.
In two weeks in Saturday Book Review: Gone Viral by J.A. Knight
November 7, 2020 @ 7:30 pm
I share your sentiments on Grisham. Sure, he’s an entertaining writer, and one of the richest, but I’ve believed for some time now that, in fifty years, he’ll be remembered more for his literary work(A Painted House, Skipping Christmas–which can be boring as hell, but has a stick-to-it-ness–), long after his thrillers are forgotten. I read and liked his first two books years ago, then started the third and noticed they were the same stories but with different character names and venues. He is also overly patronizing of minority characters, a disservice, I believe. When you’re that successful–when the gods smile on you–you just throw stuff at the wall and it sticks…Grisham’s success is as much his wife’s doing as his own. When he was a small town Mississippi lawyer with little work coming in, he’d sit back in his office while his secretary answered the phone, when it sometimes rang, and do his writing. When A Time To Kill was done, he had his wife send it to her college friend who worked for Jay Garon, long-time New York literary agent(50 years), who got him a deal. The rest is publishing history. This is based on a wire service story on him in the early ’90s, as I remember, and interviews with him.
November 7, 2020 @ 10:15 pm
Your comments and perceptions are spot on, Dan. I saw another review (BTW, I never read reviews until I’ve written my own) from a woman who lit into Grisham for his fascistic manipulation of the sister. And of course there’s the master-slave relationship between Jake and Portia. It really is an old, timeworn, worn-out story line. I’ve no idea if this is still how life/law goes in today’s Mississippi. I chose to keep my review focused mostly on the writing aspects.
November 8, 2020 @ 8:03 am
There you go. Thanks.
January 24, 2021 @ 8:51 am
I just read “A time for Mercy” and was disappointed. Too long, yes. Too descriptive, yes. But, there was no real conclusion to the book. It’s as if Grisham is setting himself to write a sequel…..What happens to Drew Gamble in the second trial? What about the Smallwood case? Does the Kofer family find out that baby Luke is their dead son’s child? Too many unanswered questions in this novel. As I said, disappointed.
April 19, 2021 @ 1:22 am
After I read it, I kept thinking about the Smallwood case…..was it resolved?
January 19, 2023 @ 6:00 pm
Very disappointing book, no ending, story lines left unanswered, Grisham really beat to death repetitive details, book was way to long,
May 12, 2021 @ 7:39 pm
Just finished A Time for Mercy today. Went in search of people who may have felt what I am feeling now. Disappointment in such a lackluster ending. Let the boy off or send him to the gas chamber. I sure as hell didn’t need to be left wondering what was going to eventually happen to the child. I think writers betray their audience with endings like this. I wonder if he thought it was being clever to leave it hanging (it’s not). Now I’m left wondering if I want to read any more Grisham, an author I really enjoy. Guess it’s back to Baldacci for a bit. Any suggestions?
May 22, 2021 @ 10:58 am
Hi Ben – I agree with you, of course. I think it’s laziness, and I also think Grisham told us he was lazy in his end note. Quite unprofessional and disrespectful of his readers. I’ve gotten at least half a dozen thumbs-down comments from my review. It’s not easy to find really great legal thrillers these days – even “Mercy” barely qualifies. I saw a comment one of the characters made that would have given the trial a new direction which, apparently, Grisham either didn’t want to take the effort to explore or he missed it altogether. (I wish I could pinpoint it for you, but I gave my copy to the library.) Anyway, other muystery-suspense-thriller writers I consistently enjoy are Michael Connelly, John Sandford and Lee Child. I also like Robert Crais, and recently resumed reading T. Jefferson Parker, his “L.A. Outlaws.” Check out my latest review of Bob Calverley’s Vietnam-era novel – quite a good read. I hope you’ll keep coming back to JackBoston! ~ Jack
November 1, 2021 @ 12:02 pm
There are many polemical issues here. Not least the state of emotional security for Kiera, Drew and Josie.
Mercy at the end of the novel has been issued but the mechanics of a retrial have not been ironed out for the horror of a so called capital crime committed in self defence by a hunted minor who was subject to consistent murderous abuse.
May 3, 2022 @ 7:35 am
what was the purpose of the smallwood case?? so many details written and it seemed completely irrelevant by the end.
March 2, 2023 @ 11:01 am
Like everyone else – a bit flummoxed as to the end.
Are we to find out what happens to Drew and his Family.
Did Jake get his money.
And was. There a Small wood payout
Please tell me there is a sequel