The suspense never rests when A Time to Kill's Jake Brigance fights the good fight once again. Often named an all-time favorite by John Grisham's legions of fans, the book that started it all gets a brand-new chapter. America's favorite storyteller returns to Ford County, Mississippi, where defense attorney Jake Brigance will have to fight for justice in a trial that could tear the small town of Clanton apart.
I mostly listened to the audio version of this in the car, and found it a bit draggy that way, although the reader (Michael Beck) was pretty good. I kept thinking "Get ON with it, already!" Part of that, I suppose, is that I've spent the last ~40 years involved in civil litigation, and Grisham explains every bit of procedure, court rules and judicial prerogative for the uninitiated. Still, trying to look at it objectively, I think this one truly was over-stuffed with that kind of thing, and a pretty good story got buried in too much tedium. It's awfully hard to make a fight over a will in chancery court exciting...not even master story-teller John Grisham can really make that work. It's the people who make the story here, and it would have been a better one with less legal procedure and more emphasis on the human drama.
The story is about a handwritten will written by a man named Seth Hubbard done so the day before he hangs himself and whether the will is valid or if the one he had professionally prepared 3 years earlier is the one to be executed. The hand written one excludes all family from any money which is a considerable amount. Instead 90 % of the estate is left to Seth's black housekeeper, and Seth is white. This being Mississippi race becomes the main focal point, and for a number of very good reasons.
The author is an expert at writing about law and legal proceedings without ever being boring, and while the ending could lead to a sequel it does not require one.
This was a fantastic book. It is too bad there are not more books out there to say that about.
In his latest novel, Sycamore Row, Grisham takes us back to Clanton, Mississippi and his first character - 'street lawyer' Jake Brigance. Three years ago, in 1985, Jake successfully defended a black man accused of murder - the murder of the white rapists of his ten year old daughter. The trial and verdict divided the town and racial tension still runs high.
I was waiting for just the right time to crack the spine of Sycamore Row. (Figuratively speaking of course because I would never hurt a book. ;)
I just knew that once I started, I wouldn't want to put it down. And I was right - I was hooked from the opening lines....
"They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind."
It turns out that reclusive Seth was extremely wealthy. And that he changed his will in the days before his death. His new handwritten will lands in the office of Jake Brigance, delivered by mail the day after Seth's death. Hubbard has cut out his children and left the bulk of his estate to his housekeeper of three years - a black woman named Lettie Lang. Jake doesn't know Seth Hubbard but is determined to follow Seth's instructions to the letter of the law.
By doing so, he's in for another fight....
Oh man! I loved it, loved it, loved it!!! Nobody does legal thrillers like Grisham. Really, you don't even need the 'legal' qualifier. Grisham is pure and simple, one heck of a storyteller. Absolutely one of the best. His prose flow seamlessly, drawing the reader ever deeper into the story and the town of Clanton. I could picture myself sitting at the diner, with Dell pouring coffee, and listening to the latest gossip.
The characters are really well drawn. Jake is extremely likable, principled and the kind of lawyer you'd want in your corner. I also quite enjoy the other supporting legal players - drunken, but canny Lucien Wilbanks, the pronouncements of Harry Rex and the astuteness of Sheriff Ozzie Walls.
Grisham brings his setting to life - the town, culture, attitudes and more are all detailed and benefit greatly from the author's own past. The legal machinations employed are just as detailed (and interesting) Grisham both grew up in the South and practiced law in Mississippi.
The plotting is excellent, the tension palpable and the journey to the final pages and reveal is oh so good. Absolutely addictive reading, Stick this one in your own stocking - five stars for sure!
The note said he was responsible for his death and gave instructions for his funeral. The will renounced his previous will, and cut out any inheritance for his children, grandchildren, or ex-wives. It left ninety percent to the black woman who had been his housekeeper, then cook and attendant for the past three years. It also left five percent to his brother with whom he had had no contact for many years. He didn’t even know if he was still alive. It stated , “As children, he and I witnessed something no human should ever see, and Ancil was forever traumatized.”
According to the lawyer’s instructions, the will was not revealed until after the funeral. By that time his two children and their families were busily making plans on how to spend their money and had hired lawyers to handle the probate process. When they found out about the new will, they were furious and determined to prove it was not valid, especially when they learned the estate was worth about $24 million. Their lawyers cite the medication he was taking, the lack of any protection from paying the full amount of estate taxes, and undue influence as possible reasons that he was not mentally capable of writing the new will.
SYCAMORE ROW follows the actions of all the lawyers as well as the people who inherited the money and who were left out. Race relations play role. It is not a pretty picture. As one of the lawyers stated, “Trials are not about fairness....Trials are about winning.”
About half way through SYCAMORE ROW, Grisham provides a hint of why Hubbard did what he did but the full details don’t come out until the end of the book. Like any trip, even though you know the destination, the journey proves very interesting. While I haven’t read all of John Grisham books, this one is a lively courtroom drama. Jake frequently refers to a previous case which may have been in a previous book, which I hadn’t read. It did not detract from the story but was mentioned too many times.
Like all of Grisham’s books, I’m sure this will be a best seller. Readers will not be disappointed.
WARNING: Don’t read the flyleaf. One sentence is a spoiler
Mr. Grisham's novel is a fast-paced and very engaging read that revisits some of the characters we met during A Time to Kill. It also has the advantage of avoiding the trap that some of his earlier work fell into, in which the author appears to write himself into a corner and resolves the plot with very unlikely devices.
The weakness of this novel is a very predictable and at times contrived plot. There were very few surprises, but getting there was a good deal of fun.
History can't be erased. The truth is always lying in wait. It is patient. When Seth Hubbard took his life he knew exactly where the truth could be found but had to make those left behind search for it. His last will and testament is the catalyst. Lettie Lang, his maid, is the target. There are plenty hyenas, family members and lawyers alike.
If you love the details of the law, southern culture, and history this book will satisfy all your tastes. It was good to revisit with the characters from A Time to Kill. Jake Brigance is still trying to recover after the Hailey verdict even though it is three years later. He continues to possess a fierce heart for justice which is why Seth Hubbard hires him from the grave. Make no mistake, Sycamore Row, is not a sequel to A Time to Kill. Grisham does have a way of making the reader feel at home in Clanton, MS again.
The ending makes this book truly extraordinary. There is some lag in the middle but catching up with old characters makes it worthwhile. Grisham does a great job of showing how money is not always a soothing salve but can actually produce more wounds.
5 of 5 stars