Time for mercy … for readers

A TIME FOR MERCY: by John Grisham, Hachette

So your stepdad’s a monster. A drunken, dishonourably-discharged army grunt-turned-cop who regularly bashes your mum, your sister and yourself.

When he belts and kills your mum, Josie, in his latest boozed fury, you figure you know who’s next. But what to do? This has been going on for months but now he’s passed out you grab his gun and pop him one in the skull before he wakes and lurches into another murderous rampage.

Sixteen-year-old Drew is small for his age, tiny in fact. Kiera, his 14-year-old-sister, is far more developed and it hasn’t been overlooked by the stepdad. No-one knows it yet, but she’s pregnant to him.

Stu Kofer’s police colleagues at Clanton, Mississippi, are outraged that one of their own is murdered in his bed. His family is bloodthirsty and bent on revenge. Almost everyone in town is appalled and wants young Drew executed.

Lawyer Jack Brigance soon learns Kofer’s been leading a double life: well-regarded, respectable copy by day; mongrel, out-of-control, violent boozer by night. Kofer’s colleagues have somehow failed to report previous reports by Josie.

Author Grisham’s at it again, detailing every iota of a legal journey that slowly but surely reveals the motivations of young Drew. Matters aren’t assisted by the fact Kofer didn’t actually kill Josie, but rather KO’d her when he smashed her jaw to pieces. Kids couldn’t tell the difference.

Brigance, normally highly regarded too, is suddenly on the nose. He finds himself facing assault, obstruction, loss of business and income, and wholesale disdain. But as Drew’s murder trial unfolds, Brigance makes it  clear Kofer was an appalling piece of work.

The more he reveals – cover-ups, bashings, rapes –  the more Kofer’s friends dig their heels in, even on the jury, which can’t come up with any better than a split vote.

Thing here is that Grisham takes 464 pages to relate every miniscule detail he can think of, robbing an otherwise fast-paced story of its momentum. The jury’s selection is mind-numbing.

And given everything that’s painstakingly turned to ordure for Brigance through the course of the tale, it is nothing short of remarkable how Grisham pulls together a happy-ever-after ending in a matter of a few final pages.

Verdict: Contrived and silly. Why would an entire town think a small kid shoots a cop just for kicks when his mother has been smashed and broken by the bloke, when he and his sister are next in line, and when the cops won’t do anything to protect them?

Then again, looking at the kind of rubbish too many people in the failed state of America believe these days, Grisham might be closer to the mark than I’m crediting him.