Book Review: Sycamore Row

I won an advanced review copy of John Grisham’s Sycamore Row in a Goodreads Giveaway. It took me a while to read it, but only because it was a book I kept in my car and read when there was time. Regardless, it was a page turner. I have been a fan of Grisham’s work since the re-release of his first novel with the new title, A Time To Kill.Sycamore_Row_-_cover_art_of_hardcover_book_by_John_Grisham

Sycamore Row takes place in the late eighties, three years after A Time to Kill. Once again we visit Ford County, and the famous lawyer, Jake Brigance, who’s claim to fame was winning a nasty rape trial against all odds (A Time to Kill). The basics of the plot are simple. Seth Hubbard was  a multi-millionaire. He was dying of lung cancer. Rather than suffer until the last day, he decides to take his own life. The problem has to do with the will. Not the one he’d had drawn up by a law firm years prior to his suicide. No. The issue is with the handwritten will he wrote days before his demise, wherein he leaves something for the church, something for a long lost brother, and the remaining 24 million to his house keeper, Lettie Lang. In the new will, Hubbard specifically cuts his kids and grandchildren out of any inheritance. Brigance receives a letter, with the will, from Hubbard –directing him to defend his last wishes to the end.

Lettie Lang is a poor black woman. Seth Hubbard was a rich white man. The angered family is determined to get the money they feel is rightfully theirs.

Their are so many lawyers I felt my head spin. Hubbard’s son-in-law and daughter hire one. Hubbard’s son hires one. There is one representing the grandchildren. Lettie and her abusive, drunken husband hire a show-boat attorney. And then there is Brigance and his lawyer friends/team. A suspected affair between the housekeeper and the millionaire is suspected. Brought into question is Hubbard’s state of mind. Especially while on so many pain medications. And where is Hubbard’s long lost brother?

Brigance has his hands full. It is a case he may not win, but one he feels obligated to defend. It once again becomes a small town divided by race and the odds are against Brigance coming out on top.

With characters vividly developed, and prose that is as smooth as silk, Grisham may have taken twenty-five years to return his readers to Jake Brigance, but it felt like no time had passed at all. While not nearly as exciting, nor as intense as a vicious rape trial, Grisham’s courtroom drama left me holding my breath and reading for more . . . and more . . . and more. The landscape is painted on the page, and the tension is constant. Wigh dialogue that is so precise and authentic it is like being an actual observer in the background.

I don’t know how Grisham does it book after book, but Sycamore Row is right up there with some of my favorite novels by this timeless author. Although I indicated it took me a while to read the book, I am upset I have finished. How long will I have to wait before I can get my hands on the next new legal thriller from one of my favorite writers of all time? Not too long, I hope!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of The Vaccination Trilogy

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