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