Top mysteries challenge review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Year of publication: 1960
Genre: Novel
Type of mystery: Rape
Type of investigator: Lawyer
Setting & time: Alabama, USA, mid-1930s

A presumably grown “Scout” Finch looks back on three years of her childhood, from the ages of six to nine, and tells the story as seen through her childish eyes, but with adult understanding. Part one is concerned with her, her brother and their friend and their lives, introducing the the town were they live and the people who live there, and the children's fascination with a mysterious neighbour who has not been see out of doors for many years. Part two features a criminal trial where the children's father defends a black man accused of raping a white girl, a trial that has unexpected consequences for the family.

Although this book is on the CWA's list of the Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time, I can’t really review it as a crime story or a mystery, because it’s not really either. The crime is never much of a mystery, and although it has far-reaching consequences, it isn’t really the main theme of the story, but rather the means to an end. The core of the story, as I see it, is justice and injustice and the various forms they take, and not just in the judicial meaning. But it’s also about coming-of-age, about race and racial prejudice, about poverty, community, family, friendship and childhood. In fact it has so many interwoven themes that it would make a good subject for an analytical thesis. Do not read it as a straightforward crime story, as you will only be disappointed.

This novel is a masterpiece of good storytelling and one of its main strengths is the charming way in which the story is told. While we are aware that Scout is teling the story with an older person’s hindsight, the narrative voice is still endearingly naïve at times, and mixes together adult humour and irony with childish wonder and innocent outrage in a narrative that would not have been nearly as charming if it had been told by an anonymous third person narrator.

I could write a long essay about this book because of all the different thoughts it provokes and its various themes, but in the interest of brevity, I think I will stop here and leave the expounding and interpreting to the thousands of students who read it every year in schools across the globe.

Rating: A wonderful coming-of-age novel and strong portrait of a community in the southern USA at a point in time. 4+ stars.

Books left in challenge: 95

Place on the list(s): CWA #60

Awards and nominations: The Pulitzer Prize, 1961


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