Review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham
Author: John Grisham
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John Grisham is back, and this time with a sequel to his first and most popular book A Time to Kill (1989). The book is a surprise in terms of characters and fluidity of narration, which would suffice for both Grisham fans and new comers to the legal thriller genre.
The story starts three years after the famous Hailey trials which made Jake Brigance, a street lawyer/court brawler a house hold name in Clanton. Jake is living in a rented house with his family as their house was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan during the Hailey trials, and his insurance claims have been fruitless as he realised that they were seriously underinsured.
On a Monday morning, Jake arrives at his office to find a letter and hand written will from local businessman and loner Seth Hubbard in his mail. The complication is that Seth, who was dying of lung cancer, hanged himself from a sycamore tree just 36 hours ago. The fact that Seth left 90 percent of his estate to his African-American caretaker/housekeeper Lettie , while leaving out both his son Herschel and daughter Ramona (and his ex-wife), is not helping the case either. But nevertheless, Jake has his marching orders as the letter specifically says “Fight them, Mr. Brigance, to the bitter end.” Part of this fight is to prove in front of a semi-partial jury that Seth was in ‘testamentary capacity’ when he wrote his will.
While Grisham is well known for his convoluted story lines, it’s the characters that are the highlights in this book. Grisham loves street lawyers, lawyers with a lot to lose, lawyers with their backs against the walls, and Jake Brigance is certainly his most memorable creation. Lettie’s character is sympathetic while her drunken husband is the entire opposite. Herschel and Ramona’s lawyer, Wade Lanier, is a cunning strategist who gives Jake a run for his money and turns out to be a likeable antagonist. While I certainly enjoyed the conversations between Jake and Harry Rex, a Bud Lite gulping divorce lawyer, its Jake’s old mentor Lucien who becomes far more interesting as the book progresses.
The narrative moves fast and grips the reader in a way that only Grisham can manage. The language is simple, without any complicated legal terminology to bog down the fluidity. Jake needs to figure out why Seth left most of his estate to his caretaker (whom he only knew for three years), which doubles up as the mystery angle of the plot with an engrossing payoff at the end of the book.
While the novel is a perfect blend of drama and mystery, some of the events in the story seemed forced and farfetched. But Grisham managed to overcome these minor issues by drawing some great characters and a consistently enjoyable story.
Read what John Grisham’s official site has to say about Sycamore Row.
Also, catch our reviews of John Grisham’s other books, The Confession and Theodore Boone.