Sycamore Row – John Grisham

I have mentioned of few other occasions that I do tend to fall back on John Grisham when in need of dependable but not to challenging read. He is just reliable, has his ups and downs, but never goes below a certain standard. So as I started my two weeks laziness finally (after 6 months of lockdown) back in my family home in August I decided to reach for a writer I can trust.

It is a direct sequel to A Time to Kill, which I read years ago, before this blog existed. But really it doesn’t matter if you read it or not, the story stands out on its own. We are in the 1980s in the fictional town of Clanton, Ford County, Mississippi. The racial tensions are very much alive and violent.

A wealthy local entrepreneur of over 70-years of age, Seth Hubbard, hangs himself. Everyone knows he had terminal cancer, so the decision in and of its own may not be such a shock. But what is shocking is the holographic will he leaves behind. Cutting out his entire family and leaving his quite significant estate to Lettie Lang, a black housekeeper that worked for him for the last three years.

This being the US and Grisham we predictably know what happens next: a jury trial. Everyone and their dog tries to challenge the holographic will. Claiming Hubbard was mentally unfit to procure one, or he was under undue influence of Lettie. It becomes about the money and the race. But also bout past. Why would he leave the money to Lettie?

The story evolves on one hand lazily, as all the procedures take months, on the other hand we have here the sudden bursts of actions as Grisham pushes the plot ahead. Jake Brigance tries to be the good guy, but he is also just human, same as the judge and other members of the legal profession. So contrary interests clash often, personalities come to the fore. But there is also some level of good humor and professional camaraderie or respect.

The book nicely interweaves many different topics while remaining wildly readable. We obviously have here the questions about racial equality, the right to leave your own money to whom you want, the baffling American legal system that makes it possible to have a dozen of lawyers representing various clients in one court room, a struggle of young couple that lost their home, as well as a struggle of underprivileged family in a heavily overcrowded house. All those come together to paint a rich picture of Mississippi in the 1980s against a backdrop of typical Grisham court procedural.

Here are some other reviews of the Grisham books I read:

The Street Lawyer

The Rainmaker

The Racketeer

One additional thing I learned right after reading the book is that what is called a sycamore tree in the US is called plane tree, or platanus in Europe. Somehow it never clicked for me before.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

One thought on “Sycamore Row – John Grisham

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