Monday, November 10, 2014

Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

Grisham has lots of stories to tell and he tells them well.  In Sycamore Row, he returns to the setting of his first novel, A Time to Kill, and features that novel's hero, the young lawyer Jake Brigance.  A few years have passed, and Jake becomes the lawyer for the estate of a man he never met.  One Sunday, Seth Hubbard, a local millionaire, hangs himself.  The next morning, Jake gets a letter in the mail from the late Mr. Hubbard, which includes his hand-written will.

What makes this interesting is that the will specifically excludes Hubbard's children and grandchildren, leaving virtually the entire estate, worth millions, to his black housekeeper.  Not many people in Ford County, black or white have money, so the prospect of a local woman becoming the richest black woman in the state generates a lot of buzz at the coffee shop.

Grisham ably navigates the racial and social implications of the will and the ensuing fight over its execution.  Some old history is dredged up, and Jake begins to think that the old man wasn't so crazy or reckless as everyone thought.  The sidebars, backstories, and local history color and flesh out the narrative.  Like many of Grisham's stories, the build up is slow, and the climax, though satisfying, is not explosive.  Less a roller coaster than a scenic train ride, Sycamore Row is nevertheless an enjoyable story.  Well done, Grisham.  Keep 'em coming!

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