Of all the Grisham novels out there this one stands out as not just a high-powered courtroom drama and a battle of wits but also as a testimony to the deep-seated racism prevailing in America's south. Not that Grisham hasn't explored complex subjects apart from just the legal, but this one must have been a tough book to write given the sensitiveness of the issue it revolves around.
How an unimaginably abominable crime committed by a pair of ruthless rednecks escalates into a crisis involving not just the criminals and the victims but two different communities and pushes them towards the brink of war, is the main subject matter.
But I presume Grisham did not want to focus on one particular issue and hence he went ahead and introduced several others as plot-devices. Like the formidable, white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan and their reign of terror, the rampant sexism and the sexist ideas that is commonplace among men of the south, the corruption in the judiciary, the churches, the political system and so on. How the judges are manipulated, intimidated, threatened and even tempted with beguiling offers. How the judges who are supposed to be impartial while delivering a verdict, have things such as popular support, political ambitions on their minds instead of the fate of the person on trial. How biased and blatantly racist many of the Southerners are. These are highlighted by Grisham in his trademark noncommittal tone.
Now the point is if I liked the book so much why not give it a 5-stars. That's because there are a few notable drawbacks to the plot. First one being this novel could've been shorter in terms of length yet made more effective in terms of the impact it created. 672 pages were really not necessary. Secondly, the real trial constitutes about the last 30% of the book. The remainder of it is lost in the description of the crimes, the political maneuverings, build-up to the high-profile trial which I agree was required but could've been cut short. Also, as usual none of the characters make a lasting impact and that would make you forget about this book sooner than you would want to.
But even so right at this point I can say that this is my most favorite Grisham book till date.EDIT - 18/03/2013:-
Holy Mother of God! I didn't know this was Grisham's first published novel. What a thoroughly controversial subject matter to explore in your first proper writing excursion. I'll give Grisham brownie points for that.