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The Summons Hardcover – February 5, 2002
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Law professor Ray Atlee and his prodigal brother, Forrest, are summoned home to Clanton, Mississippi, by their ailing father to discuss his will. But when Ray arrives the judge is already dead, and the one-page document dividing his meager estate between the two sons seems crystal clear. What it doesn't mention, however, is the small fortune in cash Ray discovers hidden in the old man's house--$3 million he can't account for and doesn't mention to brother Forrest, either.
Ray's efforts to keep his find a secret, figure out where it came from, and hide it from a nameless extortioner, who seems to know more about it than he does, culminate in a denouement with an almost biblical twist. It's a slender plot to hang a thriller on, and in truth it's not John Grisham's best in terms of pacing, dramatic tension, and interesting characters (except for Harry Rex, a country lawyer who was the judge's closest friend and in many ways is the father Ray wishes he'd had. He's so vivid he jumps off the page). But Grisham's legions of fans are likely to enjoy The Summons even if it lacks the power of some of his classic earlier books, like The Firm, The Brethren, and The Testament. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Last year's historical family drama A Painted House and the Christmas satire Skipping Christmas demonstrated that Grisham is willing to take risks. But fans of his legal thrillers already knew that, with his last three, particularly The Testament, making Play-Doh of the rules of the genre. Sometimes Grisham's friskiness works, and sometimes it doesn't. There's much to admire in his newest thriller, particularly his colorful evocation of a Deep South legal setting, his first use of this milieu since his debut novel, A Time to Kill, and some finely drawn characters. Even so, this isn't one of his most satisfying books, for while the narrative engages, it never catches fire. The setup is prime Grisham: Ray Atlee, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, is summoned home to Clanton, Miss., to the deathbed of his father, legendary judge Reuben V. Atlee; also summoned is Ray's younger brother, Forrest, a chronic drug abuser. Ray arrives home first, to find the judge dead and more than $3 million stored in boxes in a cabinet cash not mentioned in the judge's will and whose source baffles Ray. Grisham does a wonderful job of digging into Ray's increasingly frazzled head as, stunned, the professor decides to keep the money a secret, even from Forrest, and to safeguard it until he figures out what to do. Greed, frayed nerves and fear plague Ray during the coming weeks, as he investigates, scrambling from one hideout to the next, becoming ever more aware that someone dangerous is following him and wants the money. Several scenarios Ray's indulging his passion for flying small planes; his playing some of the cash at casinos to test it for counterfeiting; his dealings with screwed-up Forrest and his father's cronies, notably an ex-mistress and a wily old attorney propel the story, and Ray, forward to the source of the money, a revelation that allows Grisham to take his usual swipes at big lawyerism but which will register for many as anticlimactic though there's a final twist that as nifty and unexpected as anything Grisham has wrought. Grisham's writing is silky smooth here, his storytelling captivating; but the novel's lack of action a stone thrown through a window is as violent as it gets and the dissipation of all tension too far from the end make this, while a clever tale, one that's just too quiet. Grisham's fans might as well trim their nails while reading this, because they sure won't be biting them.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Ray Atlee, a professor at the Virginia School of Law, is summarily summoned home to Mississippi by his cancer-ridden father, a former state Chancery Judge. Ol' Dad has never been close to Ray or his younger brother, Forrest. Both call him "Judge". On arrival back at the decaying, family mansion, Ray finds the old man peacefully dead on a sofa. In obvious view is a recently written will naming Ray the estate executor. Both sons are to split the estate's assets even-steven. There isn't much, though, beyond the house and $6,000 in the bank. Mississippi doesn't pay its judges much, and Judge Atlee was famously generous to any and all charities and good causes.
So, how about that 3.1 million dollars - cash - stashed in a bookcase behind the sofa, huh? That'll buy a lot of Moon Pies and Yoo-hoo.
To call THE SUMMONS a thriller is an overstatement. The action, such as it is, proceeds at a sedate pace as Ray shuttles back and forth between Virginia, Mississippi, and New Jersey and grapples with the questions:
1. Where did the money come from?
2. Is the cash marked, or counterfeit?
3. Should he share it with Forrest?
4. Does anyone else know he has it?
Ray decides almost immediately not to declare the money as part the Judge's estate, or share it with his brother, a chronic substance abuser who's been in and out of rehab for twenty years. After all, Forrest would only kill himself with so much wealth, wouldn't he? The reader also learns early on that at least one other is aware of the horde when Ray receives an anonymous note cautioning him not to spend the windfall, and that the IRS is only a phone call away.
THE SUMMONS is basically a morality play about the consequences of banal greed. I say banal because Ray is excruciatingly ordinary, and his decisions regarding the cash stash are probably the same ones you or I would make under similar circumstances.
Until the last twenty pages or so, I was disinclined to award more than three stars. However, author John Grisham closes with a twist that, while not one that elicits an "Oh, wow!", at least satisfyingly makes the point that what goes around comes around and poetic justice is occasionally served (at least in fiction).