“You gotta be crazy to kill yourself, right? Not always. Not necessarily.… When you read what he wrote the day before he died, you’ll be convinced that Seth Hubbard was in complete control of his life.”
This is a sequel. This review contains no spoilers for A Time to Kill, aside from giving away the survival of the main character.
Sycamore Row, by John Grisham
#2 in the Jake Brigance series
Doubleday, October 2013
447 pages (hardcover)
John Grisham’s A Time to Kill is one of the most popular novels of our time. Now we return to that famous courthouse in Clanton as Jake Brigance once again finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial – a trial that will expose old racial tensions and force Ford County to confront its tortured history.
Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.
The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?
In Sycamore Row, John Grisham returns to the setting and the compelling characters that first established him as America’s favorite storyteller. Here, in his most assured and thrilling novel yet, is a powerful testament to the fact that Grisham remains the master of the legal thriller, nearly twenty-five years after the publication of A Time to Kill.
I’ve never read Grisham’s debut novel. I’ve never seen the movie. So when I was presented with Sycamore Row in the first round of my local library’s Tournament of Books, I wasn’t sure if I (or rather, the book) would be at a disadvantage right off the bat.
I ended up pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. As I was reading, I was captivated. It wasn’t until I’d set the book down for a while that I realized not a whole lot was happening. But it was one of the most enjoyable slow-building stories I’ve read in a while.
For the first three-quarters of the book we get to know all the characters involved as Jake prepares for his trial. One of the things I really enjoyed is that there wasn’t anyone I flat-out hated. Even the “bad guys” were occasionally shown in a sympathetic light. Similarly, the “good guys” had their human moments. All in all, this felt like a real community filled with real people; if it hadn’t, I don’t imagine all this build-up would have been very compelling at all.
As for the book’s being a sequel, it wasn’t much of an issue. The previous events were occasionally referenced, especially since the fallout from that earlier trial is still a major influence in Jake’s life now. Some of these felt like unnecessary deviations from this book’s plot. But those who are familiar with A Time to Kill probably appreciate the update, and it would be strange to those readers if these things weren’t mentioned.
And now, despite the fact that I know the outcome, I may just have to go pick up that earlier book… as well as more from John Grisham.
Does Sycamore Row sound like something you’d pick up? Have you read (or seen) any of John Grisham’s legal thrillers?