Book Review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Sycamore RowWhat’s it about?

Jake Brigance has never met Seth Hubbard, or even heard of him, until the old man’s suicide note names him attorney for his estate. The will is dynamite. Seth has left ninety per cent of his vast, secret fortune to his housemaid.

The vultures are circling even before the body is cold: the only subject more incendiary than money in Ford County is race, and this case has both.

As the relatives contest the will, and unscrupulous lawyers hasten to benefit, Jake searches for answers to the many questions left by Seth Hubbard’s death:

What made him write that last-minute will leaving everything to a poor black woman named Lettie Lang?

Why did he choose to kill himself on the desolate piece of land known as Sycamore Row?

And what was it that Seth and his brother witnessed as children that, in his words, ‘no human should ever see’?

My thoughts

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a massive Grisham fan and none of the adult targeted books will ever receive less than 5 stars from me and for us Grisham fans we had to wait 20 years for this sequel – so was it worth it I hear you ask?

Set only 3 years after the big Hailey trial of A Time to Kill we’re back in the Deep South of Clanton, Mississippi with a contested will case and we welcome back familiar characters in Jake and his family but also in his friends and colleagues – glad to see the return of Lucien Wilbanks, I think he’s a great character and also Ozzie and Harry Rex.

Jake’s situation doesn’t seem to have improved much, his family are still recovering from the loss of their house, their dog and are the fighting insurance company for money…overall Jake’s success with the Hailey case doesn’t seem to have helped his career or personal life that well.

There’s 2 real themes running throughout – will the will be deemed valid and what event did Seth and his brother see. The latter not really taking a major part in the plotline until almost the very end of the book. Of course I had and you will have your suspicions along the way, I was wrong by the way (again!). It’s also still very much black vs white, race relations have not moved on at all and the end brings about a particularly difficult scene to read.

Once the preliminaries of  the suicide are discovered and dealt with, much of the book is very legal orientated, discovery, jury selection and location of beneficiaries.  There’s a lot of characters in this book, potentially too many but Grisham manages effortlessly to give them all their own piece of the action. Even all the over the top, ostentatious lawyers who all want to jump on the money band-wagon and I love it when they get put in their place by Judge Atlee – who by the way, must have broken I don’t know how many legal procedural rules throughout the trial.

I enjoyed this sequel but I didn’t feel it packed quite the punch that A Time to Kill did. There’s a lot of money at stake but it’s not a man’s life and I think that’s why it’s a little less tense, you don’t care whether the kids get a share because they’re not particularly nice. However, it still manages to deliver the dramatic courtroom scenes especially when the jury delivers their verdict.

You don’t need to have read A Time to Kill to read this, it could be read as a standalone even though there are significant references to A Time to Kill throughout, but if you haven’t you really should.

Overall, not the best Grisham, one that probably needed a few less pages but he does the details well!

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