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Sycamore Row (The Jake Brigance) Mass Market Paperback – August 19, 2014
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“Powerful . . . immensely readable . . . the best of his books.”—The Washington Post
“Welcome back, Jake. . . . [Brigance] is one of the most fully developed and engaging characters in all of Grisham’s novels.”—USA Today
“One of [Grisham’s] finest . . . Sycamore Row is a true literary event.”—The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
John Grisham is the author of a collection of stories, a work of nonfiction, three sports novels, four kids’ books, and many legal thrillers. His work has been translated into forty-two languages. He lives near Charlottesville, Virginia.
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I also found the climax and denouement to be a letdown after a big buildup. I was expecting a wallop, and didn’t get it.
That said, Sycamore Row is fine escape reading with a plot that moves along at a nice clip. The book held my interest from beginning to end. In a perfect world I would have read it in one sitting.
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.
We first met Jake Brigance in "A Time to Kill", the first novel written by John Grisham, and one of his very best works, in which Jake defended Carl Lee Hailey, a black man on trial for killing two white men who had brutally raped his ten-year-old daughter. The case was tried in front of an all-white jury and in the end, Carl Lee Hailey was found not guilty due to insanity. "Sycamore Row" also brings back other interesting characters from "A Time to kill", like Ozzie; the black town sheriff, Harry Rex Vonner; Jake's trusted friend and shrewd lawyer, and Lucien Wilbanks; Jake's former boss and valuable adviser although disbarred.
Seth Hubbard was a very private man and no one knew the extent of his wealth until after his death, when it was discovered that his estate was worth more than $20 million, making it by far the biggest estate in Ford County. Before committing suicide, Seth had taken care of his affairs meticulously; from selling his property and putting the money in the bank, choosing that specific place for the suicide, leaving a detailed death note and his choice of lawyer and the timing of mailing the will so Jake would receive it the morning after the suicide. He knew that his will was going to be greatly contested by his family and that such details would be vital.
Any will in which a man leaves 90% of his estate to his housekeeper is bound to be very controversial, add on the fact that this is a white man, the housekeeper is black and the book is set in the 1980s and you can expect all hell to break loose.
If, like me, you are a big fun of John Grisham's previous work, you will agree with me that there are points in this story where you might have felt like maybe there was a little too much detail, that there are some details that the author should have left out. Never the less, Grisham brought his A-game and in the end delivered another awesome legal thriller.