Wednesday, June 4, 2014

SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham

We’re back in Clanton, Mississippi, but this time with attorney Jake Brigance, protagonist of A Time to Kill.  After local businessman Seth Hubbard hangs himself, Jake receives a letter that Seth had mailed on the eve of his suicide, asking Jake to probate a perfectly legal handwritten will, leaving most of his $20 million riches to his black housekeeper Lettie Lang.  A court battle ensues, led by a passel of lawyers representing Seth’s two adult children and a few grandchildren.  The handwritten will supersedes a more traditional will that divided Seth’s estate among the family members, and their attorneys set out to prove that Seth was not in his right mind when he penned the handwritten will, due either to the influence of his housekeeper or the pain medication he was taking for lung cancer. Jake seems to have the outcome well in hand, given that he’s very friendly with Judge Atlee, who is presiding over the case.  However, Judge Atlee wants a jury to make the decision, and a mostly white jury spells trouble for Jake, especially after Lettie’s drunken husband kills two teenagers in a highway accident.  His chances get even worse when the opposing attorney uncovers disturbing facts about Lettie’s employment history and Seth’s dalliances with women.  Jake has an ace up his sleeve, though, that even he doesn’t know about until late in the game.  I found this all made for an absorbing read, but I think it could have been so much better.  Grisham should have withheld from us the existence of the two surprise witnesses that blow Jake’s case out of the water.  Then the ambush would have had as much impact on the reader as it did on Jake.  Also, the question throughout the book is why did Seth change his will, and Grisham throws some very large hints our way, so that the introduction of this information at the trial is anti-climactic.  Plus, the critical evidence takes a circuitous route to the courtroom, and its detour seems entirely unnecessary, except to make its arrival barely in the nick of time.  I hope that the lack of suspense in this novel is not a sign that Grisham is starting to phone in his legal thrillers.  That would definitely be less than thrilling.

1 comment:

spywife said...

I agree with you. This was such a disappointment for me. A Time to Kill is my all time favorite Gresham book. This fell flat.