Sycamore Row

0314-book

review: Anita Paddock

By John Grisham
Random House : $28.95

I think most Grisham fans will be delighted with this new book by one of the greatest courtroom storytellers in the South. Sycamore Row takes place in the same town in Mississippi as John Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, which is one of his finest. In that novel, Jake Brigance, a young lawyer fresh out of law school, defends a black man who’s accused of murdering a white man who raped his daughter. Jake won the case and received national fame, but he only made

$900, his home was burned down by the Klan, and his dog was killed in the fire.

Sycamore Row begins three years later in 1988 with the suicide of Seth Hubbard, a reclusive landowner and twice divorced cantankerous old man who’s dying of cancer. He hangs himself from an ancient sycamore tree on timber land his family got back in the 1930s by unscrupulous means.

Seth mailed a letter and a hand-written will to Jake Brigance, which was to arrive on the Monday morning following his death on Sunday night.

Seth instructs Jake to make sure that his will is probated carefully and that his children and grandchildren are to get nothing. His brother, if he can be found, will get a percentage, but the bulk of it will go to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang. Jake will be the attorney handling Seth’s affairs, and he will be paid out of the estate, which is worth around 26 million dollars.

Jake knows the children and grandchildren were left everything in an earlier will that was drafted by a big shot Memphis firm. He knows there will be trouble, and there certainly is, with a bus load of lawyers representing the Hubbard family and the relatives of Lettie Lang, who suddenly have taken an interest in their poor cousin with the no-good husband.

Jake and his family are living in a small rental, awaiting an insurance claim to be settled on their torched home. This Hubbard case will bring a nice monthly paycheck, and Jake is happy about that, but he’s not prepared to deal with the turmoil and racial hatred that follows. He does have legal help from Harry Rex and Lucien, two intelligent drunks whom fans will remember from A Time to Kill.

It’s a real page-turner, and one I recommend for the sheer pleasure of reading a well-told story of a small town lawyer in Mississippi who takes on the big city law firms.

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