SYCAMORE ROW, John Grisham

Sycamore Row grabs you as a reader and never lets go.

One of the most popular novels of our time, A Time to Kill, established John Grisham as the master of the legal thriller. Sycamore Row reinfoces his popularity. We return to Ford County with lawyer, Jake Brigance, embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial that exposes a tortured history of racial tension.

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier. A second will raises many more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?

Richard comments
Sycamore Row is a sequel to A Time to Kill, the novel that introduced lawyer Jake Brigance to the world.

A Time to Kill struggled to get recognized and develop a following when it was first published. Any reader reading it will wonder how this could happen. It is a great book with a great story. The characters are colourful and charismatic. The plot, a real possibility and engaging, the trial scenes, believable and captivating, a la ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Inherit the Wind.’ Jake Brigance, the hero of the book, holds readers’ attention and retains their support to the final page of the book.

Why so much about A Time to Kill? Because, Jake Brigance is back. Professional, engaging, and a protagonist for whom readers will cheer. The setting is a return to the racist south of Mississippi. The plot again takes readers back to the courtroom to witness the trial over a will where a cancer afflicted old white man, leaves a fortune to his black housekeeper and absolutely nothing to his children and grandchildren. Was he manipulated? Was he emotionally or mentally influenced by the attractive black housekeeper? Was the will’s author mentally destabilized by cancer drugs, medications and therapy? A jury must decide if the will should stand. A reader will be drawn into the dilemma as well.

The colourful characters are all back. Lucien Willibanks, the disbarred drunk who may not be as out of the picture as his alcoholic bouts suggest. Harry Rex, another boozer who also proves to be more than his alcohol based endeavours imply. These are two of Jake’s legal team. Judge Atlee, a judge whose rigidity and conservative way of thinking would antagonize any lawyer in his courtroom.

Again, Grisham grabs the reader. He spins a yarn that keeps the reader flipping the pages, faster and faster. What’s next? Come on, tell me, more and tell me now. Grisham tells a story better almost better than any writer of our generation.

Grisham’s own professional career started in the barrister profession, but thanks to his wife she recognized writing would put more food on the table and more water in the backyard pool, to the benefit of every Grisham reader and fan.

This book reinforces Grisham as the best legal raconteur of our time. Sycamore Row doubles down this conclusion.

An aside
A Time to Kill was a terrific movie. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey steal the movie but so many other cast members make the movie a must-see: Samuel L. Jackson, Olive Platt, Donald and son, Kiefer Sutherland. If you haven’t seen the movie, hunt for it and watch it. It will really entertain you for its 2 hours run time.

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