Plot summary (from the publisher): John Grisham’s A Time to Kill is one of the most popular novels of our time. Now we return to that famous courthouse in Clanton as Jake Brigance once again finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial-a trial that will expose old racial tensions and force Ford County to confront its tortured history.
Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.
The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?
In Sycamore Row, John Grisham returns to the setting and the compelling characters that first established him as America’s favorite storyteller. Here, in his most assured and thrilling novel yet, is a powerful testament to the fact that Grisham remains the master of the legal thriller, nearly twenty-five years after the publication of A Time to Kill.
Warning: Spoilers below!
- This book started out extremely well. I was immediately drawn into the story and finished around 40 or 50 percent of the work in just a couple of days.
- The twist involving the Pickering will (where a previous employer had similarly left a handwritten will benefiting Lettie) was awesome! I never saw that coming, and my jaw literally dropped open when I read that.
- I enjoyed the Portia character. She was smart without being a know-it-all and competent without being a superwoman. If Grisham goes to the Jake Brigance well again, I hope he brings her back.
- I liked that we were kept guessing about the true nature of Lettie and Seth’s relationship. Jake was right — most people would automatically assume it was sexual (I certainly did), so I kept waiting for that hammer to drop. Good on Grisham for not going there.
- Harry Rex Vonner brought much-needed humor into nearly every scene he was in.
- The stakes weren’t high enough for Jake. He would have gotten paid the exact same amount whether he won or lost, and no one’s life was on the line. Because of this, I couldn’t figure out why he was letting himself get so stressed over the case. Yes, he wanted to win and wanted to perform his job faithfully, but nothing bad would have happened to him if he lost. The lack of potential consequences made me not care too much about the outcome.
- I didn’t like the settlement at the end. I understand why it was necessary (the judge let in some witnesses/testimony that could have been overturned on appeal and everyone involved just wanted to get the case over and done with), but Grisham had spent the entire novel telling readers how godawful Seth’s children were. As a result, I didn’t want them to get ANYTHING, and was furious that they each ended up walking away with a couple million.
- Having the jury suddenly swing to Lettie’s side after hearing about the lynching of her grandfather seemed unlikely — especially since that one juror (the one who continually stared daggers at Jake and reputedly had a family member in the Klan) was painted as a racist from the beginning. A guy like that wouldn’t change his mind (and vote) over a 70+ year old event.
- The book took too many unnecessary detours that detracted from the main storyline. For example, why was so much background info needed on Booker Sistrunk when he ended playing such a minor role? And why were we forced to endure details of Simeon’s drinking and back room card games? Surely those scenes weren’t necessary to convince us that Simeon was capable of drinking and driving.
Sycamore Row by John Grisham had a really wonderful setup and could have been another of the incredibly taut legal thrillers this author is known for. But despite the solid framework and interesting characters, the story lags in too many places and was distinctly lacking in suspense or tension. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.