Book Review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham
If you are among the millions who read John Grisham’s first bestseller, A Time to Kill (1989), you are going to love Sycamore Row. It’s a great return to what you liked when you first started reading Grisham. I wouldn’t exactly call it a sequel. It’s more like a re-visit. The setting is the same – Clanton, Mississippi – and many of my favorite characters (Jake, Harry Rex, Lucien and Ozzie) make a return appearance.
Sycamore Row takes place three years after attorney, Jake Brigance, won in the Carl Lee trial (A Time to Kill). Jake hasn’t had a lot of good cases for a while but, overall, he’s doing okay. Then, one Monday morning, he received a letter from a wealthy man, Seth Hubbard, who lives in the country outside of town. The letter contains a holographic will, along with very specific instructions to Jake.
Jake learns that Seth Hubbard hung himself the previous day. He’d been dying of lung cancer and it was becoming increasingly more painful. He planned his death very carefully. All of his assets were easily accessible. As it turned out, his estate was worth somewhere around 24 million dollars.
In the new will Mr. Hubbard excluded his family and I could see why. They were not nice people. They seldom came to visit, even when they knew he was so sick and dying. When they learned that 90% of the estate was left to Lettie, Mr. Hubbard’s black housekeeper, they showed their bigoted, money-grubbing colors. Family members hired a whole herd of big-city lawyers to swoop in and challenge the willj. The legal wrangling was off and running.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story for me was that Jake Brigance was not really representing the housekeeper as Seth Hubbard’s family and everyone else kept assuming. Jake tries over and over to make it clear that he represents the wishes of Seth Hubbard. Naturally, it stands to reason that he would favor the housekeeper since that’s what Mr. Hubbard wanted.
All the legal maneuvering was equally as interesting. The big-cry lawyers knew all the tricks and spared no expense in their mission to overrun the will. But Jake is also good as legal strategy and he works hard trying to stay ahead of that crowd.
Sycamore Row was a story rich in characters and in the twists and turns of the plot. I enjoyed it completely. Near the end of the story I could only see two ways in which the outcome could be achieved. Fortunately, Jake Brigance/John Grisham came up with a third solution that was so much better than mine. And, that’s why I still love reading John Grisham’s legal thrillers.
I “read” this book via the audio version. It was superbly narrated by Michael Beck doing all the voices. I looked him up because I liked him so much and discovered he’s an actor. Better yet, he was born in Memphis, Tennessee which is probably why all those southern accents were so perfect.
I highly recommend reading this novel, and if you are able, do it via audiobook.