The Summons by John Grisham

August 3, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Ray Atlee is a professor of law at the University of Virginia. He’s forty-three, newly single, and still enduring the aftershocks of a surprise divorce. He has a younger brother, Forrest, who redefines the notion of a family’s black sheep.

And he has a father, a very sick old man who lives alone in the ancestral home in Clanton, Mississippi. He is known to all as Judge Atlee, a beloved and powerful official who has towered over local law and politics for forty years. No longer on the bench, the Judge has withdrawn to the Atlee mansion and become a recluse.

With the end in sight, Judge Atlee issues a summons for both sons to return home to Clanton, to discuss the details of his estate. It is typed by the Judge himself, on his handsome old stationery, and gives the date and time for Ray and Forrest to appear in his study.

Ray reluctantly heads south, to his hometown, to the place where he grew up, which he prefers now to avoid. But the family meeting does not take place. The Judge dies too soon, and in doing so leaves behind a shocking secret known only to Ray.

And perhaps someone else.

Warning: Major spoilers below!


  • The setup for this book was great. Right up to the part where Ray found the $3 million in cash, I was riveted by the action and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
  • Speculating about where and how the judge might have gotten his mitts on the money was fun for awhile. I have to admit I was stumped by the whole thing.
  • Harry Rex was the best character in the novel. He seemed familiar to me. Has he appeared in other Grisham books? (I haven’t read these in order.)
  • I thought the yacht name King of Torts was pretty cool.I know Grisham has a novel with the same title — but was surprised to learn that it wasn’t about this French guy. What’s up with that?


  • Grisham spent a LOT of time on things that ended up playing NO ROLE WHATSOEVER in the main plot. Ray’s love of flying, his flirtation with his student, the research into casino security… I mean, WTF was all that for?
  • Speaking of the casino stuff, I LOVE gambling and all things related to insider knowledge of how casinos work, but even I was bored stiff by Ray’s endless trips to these casinos to test whether the money was real or counterfeit. A couple of trips, sure, I can understand that. But Grisham went to that well far too many times, even after it became 100% CLEAR that the money was real and that the judge did NOT acquire it from gambling.
  • Ray was completely unlikable, IMO, and acted like a stupid fool with the money. I get that one of Grisham’s points was to show that $3 million can change people in an instant, but Ray was particularly dumb. Hauling it around in trash bags, trying to hide it in storage facilities, forever loading and unloading it into his car. Again, these types of scenes were just highly repetitive and boring as hell.
  • The reveal was totally ridiculous. I do NOT mind that Forrest ended up with the money; I was willing to accept that. But to make Forrest be the one who had hired goons to trail, threaten, and scare Ray was stupid. Yeah, even if I buy the fact that Forrest wanted to “test” Ray by letting him think he (Ray) found the money (Forrest didn’t even take, say, a hundred grand to tide himself over??), I do not buy for one second that Forrest would let the ruse go that far. Like any NORMAL person, he would have confronted Ray immediately after asking, “Are you sure the Judge didn’t have any other assets for us?” When Ray said “No” to that, that would be the logical time for Forrest to bring the hammer down. But then we wouldn’t have this dumb plot, now would we?


Now I’m starting to remember why I stopped reading John Grisham novels way back when. The Summons featured none of Grisham’s strengths, but many of his weaknesses, including: non-courtroom action; a big, bad pharmaceutical company; an uneven pace with boring scenes that bogged down the action; and a very flimsy motive fueling the plot. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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