Author: John Grisham
Published By: Doubleday
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I’ve read quite a few John Grisham novels and I have to say that A Time to Kill was one of the best. Even the movie that was adapted from the novel was excellent, simply because they stuck pretty closely to the incredibly captivating story. When I heard that John Grisham was planning to publish a sequel to A Time to Kill over twenty years later, I was intrigued. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Sycamore Row.
Taking place three years after the events of A Time to Kill, we come across a man hanging from a sycamore tree. Seth Hubbard had been suffering from cancer and had decided to take matters into his own hands. Everything appears to have been planned, right down to having one of his employees come “meet him” at the location of his demise so that his body wouldn’t go unnoticed for long. Seth’s planning is what brings Jake Brigance back into the Clanton, Mississippi spotlight.
Three years after pulling off an amazing victory for Carl Lee Hailey, defending him against the charge of capital murder by proving him temporarily insane when he killed the two men that had beaten and raped his ten-year-old daughter and left her for dead, Jake Brigance is no better and somewhat worse than when he started off. During the trial, he lost his house when the KKK burned it to the ground. He lost his beloved dog. His insurance company is refusing to pay what is owed for the home and Jake is currently renting a small house not far from…and nothing like…the original. His notoriety after the Hailey trial didn’t earn him any other high profile cases and, in fact, Jake has been just barely keeping the law firm afloat.
That’s when he receives a handwritten will mailed a couple of days before Seth Hubbard’s suicide. In the will, he declares that he is disinheriting his children and grandchildren and instead leaving 5% of his estate to his long lost brother Ancil, 5% to his church and the remaining 90% to his housekeeper Lettie Lang. Seth Hubbard makes it very clear that this written will is to supersede his previous will and that, knowing there will be a fight over the estate, Jake Brigance is to defend his will to the utmost.
Like the Hailey trial, defending Seth Hubbard’s estate will be no easy task for Jake Brigance. For one thing, cutting your children out of a will is fodder for gossip enough, but a white man leaving the bulk of his estate to his black housekeeper is downright scandalous in Fords County, Mississippi. Jake knows his back will be up against the wall and that the lawyers for the other side – high paid attorneys with lots of tricks up their sleeves – will do anything to discredit both Seth Hubbard and Lettie Lang in an effort to gain access to the Hubbard estate. But, as usual, Mr. Brigance is no slouch in the surprise department.
Now, it must be noted that I had stopped reading John Grisham novels after The Street Lawyer, a novel that left a bad taste in my mouth as I couldn’t find myself rooting for the main character at all. After what I sensed was a decline in the author’s work – I hadn’t really enjoyed The Partner all that much either – I had decided to take a break from Grisham. That break lasted over a decade. That being said, I was still excited over the sequel to A Time to Kill for very strong reasons – I loved the main characters, the story was captivating and I was thrilled by all the twists and turns it took to get to that shocker of an ending.
I had every reason to be excited over getting my hands on this novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Grisham had my attention right from the shocking moment when Seth Hubbard is found hanging from a sycamore tree. My attention never wavered even as I realized that this was going to be a battle over an estate, something that could get quite muddy and complex if tax law and all of the other harsh realities of estates and probate were explored. But after reading Seth Hubbard’s handwritten will and the little bit he mentions of Ancil, I had a feeling that there would be quite a bit more to this story than met the eye. I knew that I was going to enjoy this book.
And enjoy it I did! Although Carl Lee Hailey is gone, he’s not forgotten and is mentioned quite a few times in the book. Sycamore Rowe features the return of some of my favorite Grisham characters: Jake Brigance; the ever-intoxicated, yet sometimes brilliant Lucien Wilbanks; the crude divorce attorney Harry Rex Vonner and Sheriff Ozzie Walls. Former District Attorney Rufus Buckley is back and just as grating on the nerves as ever. Gone is law student Ellen Roark, but in her place is Portia, Lettie’s daughter just back from the military and eager to gain experience in hopes of becoming a lawyer. The lawyers and associates for the other team…in fact, the whole team on the other side of things are just despicable enough to make you want to root for Lettie. Then there’s that mystery surrounding the change in the will and the verbiage regarding Seth’s brother. You can’t help but want to read more just to find out what secrets are about to be revealed during the trial.
Even more importantly, Sycamore Row is one of those sequels that you can read and enjoy without ever having read the original novel. Sure, Carl Lee Hailey is mentioned and you definitely know that his case was a defining point in Jake Brigance’s career, but this novel is really about Jake, Seth and Lettie. Carl Lee Hailey is no longer in the picture at this point and you need know nothing about the original trial to read about this new battle.
John Grisham has hit another high point with Sycamore Row. The book was so enjoyable that it has inspired me to read some of the novels I missed along the way. I can’t wait to get started!