520 of 551 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I have always loved John Grisham's books. I can remember when I was introduced to his writing when I read A Time To Kill. I read ALL of the time - I inhale books. I have been disappointed in the last few Grisham books. In fact, I was quite irritated to read his baseball ones. I felt he had abandoned his best writing : lawyer, courtrooms, small Southern towns. Well, I just finished Sycamore Row. Oh, my! It's a wonderful book. I loved how I could not guess how the ending would be. I will have to say Grisham is back 100%. This book will shoot to the number one spot on the best sellers list!
740 of 805 people found the following review helpful
The beginning of 'A Time to Kill' opens with one of the cruelest act that could ever be committed on a fellow human being. That scene will forever be seared in the minds of anyone who has read it.
The ending of 'Sycamore Row' will evoke that exact same emotion.
I digress but let me quickly throw this in since I'll get this question five thousand times a day until Christmas. "Is this book really a sequel to 'A Time to Kill'? It depends on what your definition of "sequel" is. If to you a sequel is a book that includes the same characters as the previous book, then yes. If to you a sequel is a book that continues on the same storyline as the previous book, then no. There are references to Carl Lee and "that verdict" but not enough (in my opinion) to call it a continuation of the storyline in 'A Time to Kill'.
I know that's splitting hairs and to be honest... it really doesn't matter.
'Sycamore Row' is a GRAND SLAM in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, last game of the Series, off a pitcher that, up to that point, has thrown a perfect game. If you think I'm exaggerating I would love to chat with you after you've read this book. Seriously. I'm an unapologetic fan of Grisham and while I think he is a magnificent writer, I'm under no illusion that everything he writes is gold. (*Ahem*, 'The Last Juror', 'The Racketeer'). But there are the gold ones like 'The Broker', 'The Confession', 'A Time To Kill'...
And now 'Sycamore Row'.
This story centers around a colorful old man named of Seth Hubbard. Seth is old. Seth is dying. Seth is rich. Unfortunately the rich part is the one that draws the attention of everyone. Even if said rich is only speculative, and not yet proven. Seth is a shrewd yet successful business man with a plan that, on the surface, looks like he's lost his damn mind. He kills himself, leaves behind a new will that cuts out his children and bequeaths 90% of his estate to the Black maid.
A white man in the Deep South leaving the bulk of his rumored riches to his Black hired help... yeah, can't see why that would be a problem. Although the will is explicit in its direction and clear in its execution, you know it'll be challenged. Why? Because there hasn't yet been a law written that is above the scrutiny of the mighty and great wisdom of the all-knowing attorney. And so begins the circus.
We do have the pleasure of witnessing the antics of Harry Rex and beloved Lucien once again. These guys. I swear, there isn't enough alcohol in Ireland to sate those two. Despite their quest to become the reincarnation of 'Bartles & James', Ford County would be one hell of a boring place without them. And Jake would be lost.
Ah yes Jake. Life hasn't gone exactly as our brave lawyer hoped. Of course he did try a double murder case for only $900, so I'm not sure what he expected from good ole' Ford County. He's brought into this battle courtesy a mailed letter from Mr. Hubbard himself. Now contesting a will does seem dull and boring, and I'm sure in real life it is. But in the hands of John Grisham, following all this mess is pure joy.
Lettie Lang is the Black housekeeper who is the heir to this (potential) windfall. And because of such the leeches and distant family have all shown up to "help her through this rough and difficult time". Not only that, but she doesn't heed the advice of Jake and surrounds herself with one of the most jerk-off character I've had the pleasure of reading in a Grisham novel. I'll only say he's a lawyer from Memphis, TN and I was literally laughing out loud at this clown. Think of it like this... what if Al Sharpton had an entourage?
A good writer tells you about the interaction between characters. A great writer makes you feel the interaction between the characters. I wasn't sure if I liked Judge Atlee or not. At times I was cheering, other times I was found myself using words that I specifically invented for that lawyer clown from Memphis. I wanted to hug Dell and ask her if she's make me some shrimp-n-grits while bumping that ample derriere against me. My respect for Sheriff Ozzie grew and my distain for Seth's "family" only grew. And by "grew" I mean "like cancer".
The last time I felt such hatred and bile for a person(s) was Travis Boyette in 'The Confession'. And unless your father's name is Lucifer, you will too. Remember how I said a great writer will make you feel the interaction between the characters? With the loathing I had for this family, I felt that interaction between those characters and ME! His offspring are probably the only people who could make a suicide (by hanging no less) feel like a bloody escape.
Now... I'm going to warn you that there are two parts in this book that will make you pause. (Don't worry no spoilers here.). The first is an incident that involves Lattie Lang's husband. The father of the family he affects comes to speak to Jake and that conversation... if your eyes don't get a little bit wet then you have a heart of pure concrete.
The second part I alluded to earlier is the ending. 'A Time to Kill' has one of the most disturbing openings you'll read. 'Sycamore Row' has one of the most disturbing endings. The more you read the faster your heart beats. And the faster your heart beats the more you read. As you read this book you wonder "what does this have to do with that?", "what is the significance of that?" And then it hits you... right in the gut.
'Sycamore Row' is history. 'Sycamore Row' is symbolic. 'Sycamore Row' is a place of pain. 'Sycamore Row' is a place of beauty. 'Sycamore Row' is one of the best books I've read this year.
*Personal note: John Grisham has had a few give-a-ways and contests with this new book of his. I entered but I didn't win. (No surprise there if you're familiar with my luck) You know what I wish John would do? I wish he would have a contest and then the winner(s) of the contest get to come to his house, sit on the porch, drink sweet (very sweet) iced tea, snack on boiled peanuts, and just listen to John tell stories. I've said this before but John has that old school, old soul, old traditional Southern way of telling stories. And it translates perfectly to paper.
Google Hangouts and FB question and answer sessions are great ways to connect us with our favorite writers. But imagine... just imagine a weekend in Mississippi immersed in the Southern culture, shooting the breeze on a slow Saturday afternoon with one of the most engaging storytellers writing today. THAT would be something. OK enough mindless meanderings from a book lover, back to your regularly scheduled life. And reading.
330 of 363 people found the following review helpful
John Grisham, one of the most popular novelists of our time, first comes to prominence in 1988 with "A Time to Kill", a story set in a small town called Clanton, Mississippi, about a ten-year-old black girl ravaged by two whites, of an incensed father who takes the law into his own hands, killing the two rapists in a courthouse shooting, and of the young but sharp defense lawyer Jake Brigance who saved him from certain death.
Twenty-five years later, John Grisham brings back Jake Brigance to his stomping ground, the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi and its courthouse in his new novel, Sycamore Row, which centers on a new trial that exposes Clanton's uneasy past with race relations. The sequel is about Brigance fighting for justice in a case that could tear the small town of Clanton apart.
A semblance of normalcy has been restored to Clanton after Brigance won acquittal for Carl Lee Hailey, but the deep fissure it had created was still smoldering. His house was burned down, and he nearly paid with his own life. But many of those involved in the incident still walked free. Though the case grabbed nation-wide attention, there's still no drastic change and Jack Brigance is still a small-town lawyer. Nothing out of the ordinary seems to be happening...
In one corner of Clanton lives Seth Hubbard, a reclusive rich old man who is dying of lung cancer. In a quirk turn of event, he hangs himself from a sycamore tree one rainy afternoon. His maid who took care of him for the last three years was kicked out of the house and left to fend for her family by Hubbard's greedy family who arrived soon after his death to stake claim to his property. It's assumed that they would inherit his estate and all that therein.
But something extraordinary happens. Unknown to others, a day before committing suicide Seth Hubbard had written a new will, cancelling out his previous will and cutting out his two children and their children, leaving five percent to Irish Road Christian Church, another five percent to his brother and a whopping 90 percent which comes to more than $20 million to Lettie Lang, his black housekeeper, and mailed it to Clanton lawyer Jack Brigance, asking him to defend it in the event it was contested.
When the handwritten will arrive in the mail, along with a forwarding letter why he did what he did, Brigance knows just how fragile and racially charged the case will be. With the Carl Lee Hailey case still fresh in the townsfolk's memory, everyone asked the same question: Why should the housekeeper get the fortune? The majority of the inhabitants of Clanton feel that Hubbard's fortune should go to his children. No one was willing to let a black maid become the richest person in town.
But the young lawyer is willing to risk everything, and even his reputation, or what was left of it after the Carl Lee Hailey case, and decided to take up cudgels on behalf of Lettie Lang. It is a case fraught with danger, drama and doggedness. How it unfolds is what Grisham's novels are all about.
Sycamore Row may not be as violent as A Time to Kill, but it is as riveting and enjoyable, if not more. John Grisham is a master of legal thriller and courtroom drama who more than does justice to his story in the book. What is especially characteristic of Grisham's novels is the way he built up the plot, heart pounding and pulsating with an intense feeling of expectancy, and bringing it to its grand finale. Full of intrigue, conspiracy, suspense, drama and plot twists in the typical Grisham-style, it is a novel which is not to be missed.
162 of 181 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is a real page turner. John Grisham has written some of the best fiction in the world over the years although in recent years it did seem like he was experimenting with different writing styles and looser legal research. It wasn't clear if he was losing his touch or just bored. This yarn brings back many of the characters from "A Time to Kill" set just three years later. It starts off with a last minute, hand written will arriving in the mail just days after the wealthiest man in the county takes his own life--a man that was so secretive that virtually no one knew he had any wealth at all. His family is cut out of his estate and replaced with his black maid as the beneficiary at the last minute which is where the fireworks begin. The lawyers start piling on thicker than stacks of firewood. Its impossible to figure out what is going on with all the twists and turns and the pages just keep turning. Don't start this one if you have any important appointments to keep in the morning.
Update: It might not have been clear what was meant by different writing styles and looser legal research. In a number of the author's recent books, he had written in the first person ("I looked at the judge and wondered exactly what he was thinking"), adding to that a present tense approach, which can be really hard to get into ("I am walking down the hallway and see the opening to the courtroom ahead"). This book returns to the more traditional (and I think easier to read) what is called third person, past perfect ("She looked at the painting in silence and thought to herself that no one in their right mind would hang such an abomination on a perfectly good wall. The victim, of course, hadn't moved and still stared at it with unseeing eyes."). As to looser legal research, the author, himself, mentioned that in disclaimers at the end of the last several stories, stating that he has become a lazy writer and has made up a good portion of the legal and technical facts. I tend to think he has been stretching the truth a little on this point as he has listed quite a few individuals as consultants, professional or otherwise. The characters--this is Grisham after all--are as disfunctional as ever but they come to life with his great writing such that you have to love them anyway. Most of them are like bad relatives that you wouldn't actually want to spend time with but love hearing stories about for the entertainment value.
117 of 136 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I've read all Grisham's books and this comes in at the "ok" level. We'll never capture the essence of what made Grisham great in The Firm and A Time to Kill because he keeps writing along a handful of themes. 99% of lawyers are garbage. The bad guys will always uncover dirt and find a way to spring it during a trial. Mississippi is littered with towns that have railroad tracks separating white & black people. You get the point.
This book is ok, definitely worth the time and money. The ending wasn't unrealistic, though a bit predictable. The "shock" part of the ending I didn't see coming, but didn't really surprise me since it is along Grisham's common themes. Giving him a 3 is tough because it is against his best works one must compare him. The first half is pretty slow then the "action" picks up. Once I hit about 60% I couldn't put the kindle down. But like I said, it was largely predictable from that point. Still better than a lot of authors who devise something completely unrealistic so you can't guess the ending.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Amazing story told by an amazing story teller. I was hooked after the first page. Read it night and day. Loved every second of it. Rich characters. Twists and turns. Heroes. Finished it today. NOW WHAT DO I DO? How am I gonna find another book that excites me like this one did? What do I read now that's is gonna be as entertaining? I HATE BOOKS LIKE THIS!!! LOL. All joking aside....if this book doesn't entertain you.....get a mirror under your nose.....you might be dead.
69 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I read the whole book, because I wanted to know what happened. But I was mad the whole time. It was repetitive. The relationships between the characters were not developed AT ALL. The only real relationship shown was between Jake and Judge Atlee (which was pretty good). All of the other relationships were superficial, even his marriage. But the worst flaw is the lawyer that Grisham created.
Jake Brigance should have been fired. Are you telling me he never told Letty that she should tell him everything about her past as a housecleaner, any bad experiences she had, because they would come out in trial? When he got a list of 45 witnesses that he couldn't question at the last minute, did he show her the list and ask her if any of them could report negative info? When the first surprise witness testified, raising doubts on Letty's honesty, right before lunch, did Jake spend the lunch hour trying to find out exactly what had happened so he could handle additional surprises that might arise, or figure out a strategy for what to ask Letty about it when she took the stand again? NO, HE RUNS AWAY AND HAS LUNCH WITH HIS BUDDY, IGNORING LETTY. What a crappy lawyer.
The next worse thing was the story and the writing. Jake wins the case on a surprise witness whose testimony comes in at the last minute. WHY WAS IT LAST MINUTE? They couldn't find the brother for most of the book, then the former lawyer getting his story can't meet with him, finally he gets the testimony, but then gets drunk and is arrested on the airplane, and then loses his briefcase with the videocassette, etc. On his way back, he doesn't tell Jake what the testimony shows, he just says he needs to get there, but gets so drunk he can't. REALLY? The former lawyer doesn't disclose the content of the testimony he is trying to fly across country? He only gets completely drunk AFTER he gets testimony that will save the case? WELL, WHO WROTE THE STORY? This is an artificial trick by Grisham to make the delivery of this testimony suspenseful and dramatic, coming in at the last minute.
All the last minute testimony shows is how bad Jake was, for not finding out what the story was from Lucien as soon as he knew about it, and particularly for not looking more closely into the connection between the Rinds and Hubbards even prior to that. Not only that, but the dramatic testimony was clear a mile away-because we learn early on that white men were involved in a black man's killing, connected to the disappearance of Letty's grandfather at the same time, and it was a painful memory for the brother. We know this while they are trying to locate him, and we know from that point on he will be found just as he's needed to testify about this terrible incident. So the ending wasn't a surprise at all. I thought there would be an actual surprise. I expected that we would also find out that Seth Hubbard had fathered the baby with Lois, making him Letty's father, to explain why he bequeathed ALL of the money to Letty, but Grisham didn't go that far. His surprise was a non-surprise to us, the readers (who are the ones who need to be surprised), but a complete surprise to Jake, the lawyer (who should have been looking for this possibility as an explanation for the will once the stories started coming out).
Another big hole: If Seth hated his kids and grandkids so much, why did he leave them all the money three years prior? Why didn't he leave his money to a charity for black people instead? At that point he knew his kids didn't love him, he had memories of the lynching, he wanted to make amends. He didn't have to find Letty and hire her and wait until two days before he died to change his will. He could have made a will that made amends for his father's lynching, and then later added Letty in specifically for some share, after he had located her. He could have put her in as an administrator of a trust for all members of the Rinds family. And why did he wait until he was just weeks away from death to change the will? She lived with him for three years while he was selling everything. Didn't he know what he was planning to do with the money until the last minute? None of this makes any sense.
Another reason Jake is a bad lawyer: He wants Letty to hide her friendly relationship with Seth, in case it would be construed as a sexual relationship. And yet, before the brother turns up, he has nothing to explain why Seth would leave her the money, except he hates his kids (yet three years prior he left them everything, so he doesn't hate them that much). A friendly caretaking relationship could explain that to some degree, but Jake deliberately excluded that from the testimony. Who would leave millions to a distant, not particularly friendly, caretaker, given no other reason? One of Jake's obligations as a lawyer was to try and create a motive that would make sense to the jury, but he didn't even try.
Jake did not look into Letty's past work history, past history with employer's wills, past history with the land and the Hubbards (what about doing a DNA check to see if she was related to Seth? I would have done that, although it wouldn't have panned out). He was a lazy, sloppy lawyer, and wins the case in the end because (just in time) a brother gives Jake surprise testimony that Jake knew nothing about in advance. Prior to that he was going to lose the case because of a lack of preparation. His only angle was that Seth was a good planner. WHAT A GREAT LAWYER (NOT!). But of course, Grisham wrote him that way, so it's ultimately his fault. He did not write a legal thriller with good lawyering, which is what makes a legal thriller great.
Another thing that made me mad: Portia was in the military and traveled all around the world, but Grisham writes constantly that she is uncomfortable being invited to dinner in white people's nice houses, having dinner in nice restaurants, and surprised at being treated as an equal. REALLY? She is more sophisticated in her world experiences than Jake, has probably eaten in lots of fantastic restaurants around the world with all kinds of people of different races. You think she is awed by being treated nicely in this small rural town by white people? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.
So Grisham's book rests on his ability to create suspense, which he is good at, but the suspense and the relationships are all artificial.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
It's like your favorite candy bar. You anticipate it for what seems an eternity, then you have it in your hands and you just devour it! After it's over, you think "Wow.... When's the next one?" My business partner is another avid fiction reader. When I lamented the fact that I was close to the end of the latest Grisham book, she asked who that was. I was stunned and mentioned a few of his earlier works. She said she had heard of them, but had never read him. As I finished this book and looked at the list of his previous novels, I envied her that she would get to enjoy so many months discovering this author. I just can't seem to get enough. When's the next one?
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I'm really surprised at some of the super positive reviews for this book. There is just not enough that happens in the here. It's as if someone wrote a 464 page book on a boring trial about people contesting their father's will. Yes that is what this is about. No major drama, no action, just slow and predictable.
Yes it is readable. I was struggling to find a book to read, had started a few that didn't take, and finally when I got Sycamore Row, I was pleasantly surprised at it's style and readability. So I give Grisham that. He's able to keep you interested just by the way he writes. The characters and the setting are all well described and easy to visualize in your mind, which is part of the fun.
Seriously though, there is just not enough plot here. Really John Grisham and no plot, yes it is true. It really is a long haul to get to a trial that plays out pretty much as you would predict. Yes there are some surprises (sort of), but nothing totally out of the blue.
****SPOILERS START HERE *****
Ok, someone explain to me why the lawyers for the children, can't go to Lettie (not Jake) and say, "Hey, we will withdraw our case, if you agree to give the children most of the money. You keep $2 million. They get the rest. Just sign here." You don't need Jake for that. They can "settle" with Lettie via contract instead of settling with the Estate. They withdraw the case, Lettie gets the money and transfers most to the children. Guess what? This is exactly what is proposed AFTER the trial is over. Go figure. Why include Jake and the estate here? Just deal with Lettie, before the case gets going.
Also, WTF with Lucien getting like no credit from Jake? Not even a thanks for winning my trial for me. Jake is a serious moron. Totally bungles his side, can't get any good decisions from the Judge. Doesn't research Lettie's past to find out her "secret". I mean come on, at least we expect a good lawyer in a book about law, not getting saved at the last minute by a drunkard.
We knew all along that Ancil had some story to tell. I figured it was either something that Seth felt guilty about like either a killing or rape or something that he was responsible for. Turns out, he wasn't responsible for anything, just witnessed some stuff as a kid. So yeah, guilt might still be natural, but at least if he were responsible in some way it would have made more sense.
Whatever, it's still 3 stars because the writing style is pretty good. Characters are decent even if they don't do much, etc. So go figure. Grisham still writes pretty well, but seriously this book lacks court room drama, lacks real plot, has plot holes, and just didn't do it for me. Sorry.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2014
This book reminded me why I quit reading Grisham a few years back. The early Grisham books were real page turners. I found this one to be rather slow going and pretty predictable. Old rich guy cuts family out of will, alludes to some past event witnessed by himself and his brother. He leaves everything to his maid.
It takes place in the Deep South. HMMMMM, wonder where this going?
I thought the novel was a little contrived. The guy knew he was dying, but changes his will at the last possible minute. It is hard to reconcile the guy's motives. If he was so concerned about doing the Right Thing, he could have written the second will to reflect the ultimate resolution.
A Time to Kill was a great novel. This one was, at least for me, too much about questionable ethics and greed. Jake is still a good guy, but defending a will was not as riveting as defending a broken hearted father. The conclusion had very little to do with Jake's brilliance. They got lucky at the end, which again was pretty far fetched.