Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Sycamore Row

Author: John Grisham
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Date of Publication: October 22, 2013
Pages: 464 (Hardcover Edition) 

  You have to give John Grisham his due.  Year after year he spins out great stories filled with memorable characters and just the right amount of tension.  A Time to Kill was his first novel (which I read shortly after I read his breakthrough novel The Firm) and Sycamore Row is a worthy sequel.  Grisham reprises most of the characters from his first book, including young and struggling attorney Jake Brigance.  It is three years after the heralded murder trial from A Time to Kill (the late 1980s).  Jake still runs his practice on a shoestring budget, fending off creditors and looking for business.  "Business" finds him in the form of a letter from an elderly white male, in the terminal stages of lung cancer, who hung himself from a Sycamore tree shortly after penning the letter to Jake.  Included in the letter is a hand-written will which leaves the bulk of his considerable estate to his black housekeeper and specifically excludes his derelict children.

  It's hard to believe that a 460 page novel about a contested will could be interesting much less entertaining, but Grisham achieves both.  The cast of characters is large and they are portrayed well.  Even though the author is describing "typical" Southerners, he doesn't wallow in stereotype or cliche.  The disgruntled heirs and their "big city" lawyers who swoop in like turkey vultures on roadkill, the locals who all have opinions fueled by gossip and innuendo, Jake and his family and a multitude of other minor characters all keep the story vibrant and moving.  

     Like A Time to Kill the main theme here is race and bigotry.  The difference in Sycamore Row is that the race issue is more simmering with overtones everywhere but it is not as bluntly in your face.  The final message is that events of decades past can indeed have serious repercussions generations later.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It is just what you would expect from this author: a fine story, great characters and a very satisfying resolution.  What more could a reader ask?

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