Sycamore Row by John Grisham: A review

 

I had heard a lot of good comments about John Grisham's latest book, his third featuring attorney Jake Brigance, and I decided that I would like to read it. But first, I thought I should probably read Sycamore Row, the second in the series. The events of this novel take place in 1988, three years after the trial that made Jake famous as depicted in A Time to Kill. I never actually read that book but I saw the excellent movie based on the book so I was very familiar with the story.

Jake had lost just about everything except his wife and daughter as a result of the earlier trial, but he had hoped that the notoriety that it brought might help him to build his practice and bring in some more lucrative cases. That has not really happened and so three years later we find him and his family living in a rented house and struggling financially.

In October of that year, something happens that seems as though it might provide Jake with an economic boost.

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy Ford County, Mississippi businessman who is dying painfully of lung cancer. He makes a decision to take control of his life and his death. On October 2, a Saturday, he has his housekeeper/nurse Lettie drive him to his office where he writes a holographic will revoking all previous wills and disinheriting his children and grandchildren. His new will leaves 90% of his estate to Lettie, 5% to a long-lost brother who may be dead, and 5% to his church. He then writes a letter to Jake Brigance appointing him as the attorney for his estate and directing him to defend this current will against all other claims. He then mails the letter and the will to Jake. On Sunday, Hubbard goes to church and interacts with several of his fellow parishioners, then sends word to one of his employees to meet him at a specified time and place near a sycamore tree. When the employee arrives at the place, he finds Hubbard hanging from the sycamore tree, dead. He has committed suicide. He has left notes explaining what he has done and leaving instructions for his funeral.

When Jake receives his mail the next day, he gets the letter from Hubbard and follows his instructions in offering his will for probate. When a law firm from Tupelo offers the previous will which they had prepared for probate, they learn of the new will. Thus the disinherited children learn of it and the fight is on. It continues for many months and is described in intricate detail. There are twists and turns to the story and a surprise at the end that explains Hubbard's willingness to leave all that money to Lettie. But the "surprise" was telegraphed well in advance and I didn't really find it so surprising.

I found the characters in this novel to be flat and not very engaging and the writing, in general, to be plodding and repetitious. For a book billed as a legal thriller, it was not very thrilling at all. I'm no longer sure I want to read that third book in the series.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

   

Comments

  1. I have never actually read Grisham though I have seen a few of the films based on his books. I found them kind of dull with flat characters. I wonder if that is typical of the author. I am a stickler for reading series in order so I would read the first book first if I gave this series a try.

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    1. I suspect the lack of depth in the characters may be a common trait in most of his books.

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  2. Pass, I think. But that is my general response to popular fiction.

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    1. Well, there's little fiction that is more popular than Grisham's.

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  3. I've not read a Grisham for ages. Thank you for this review.

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    1. I've only ever read a handful of Grisham books and the only one I can truly say I enjoyed was The Painted House which was not a legal thriller but a coming-of-age story.

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  4. I agree that the movie of A Time To Kill was excellent. That said, I quit reading Grisham quite a while ago. I think I will stick to that plan.

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    1. Why all of his books end up on the best-seller list is a mystery to me and I think I'm done trying to figure it out.

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  5. I have seen few films based on Grisham's novels, but as far as I can recall I have yet to read any of his novels.

    I think I'll skip on reading Sycamore Row by John Grisham based on your review.

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    1. A wise decision, I think. There are too many good books out there.

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  6. Yeah I've read a few Grisham books but it was long ago ... I think I'll wait till a good one comes / thx for your honest review

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    1. Well, the latest one has gotten good reviews but I'm just too bummed out to give it a try. I think Grisham's style of writing is just not for me. I don't think he'll miss me with his millions of devoted fans.

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  7. I found this and most of his more recent books somewhat disappointing. I loved all the early books to movies one.

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    1. The books seem very formulaic and obviously many people really love them, but I've come to the conclusion that they are not for me.

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  8. I don't think I have read a Grisham book since the late 90s. The Client, A Time to Kill, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Firm, etc., all among my most favorites. I never realized Sycamore Row was the follow-up to A Time to Kill. Sorry this one was a disappointment.

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    1. Yeah, I think I am done with Grisham unless something drastic happens to change my mind.

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