Sycamore Row by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
John Grisham has a few bland novels lately. I'm sure his hope with Sycamore Row was to turn that streak around. Turning back to use an old character from a previous novel was a genius stroke on his part and the first time he has "re-used" a character.
SR grabs you in right away. The book opens with a character committing suicide, hanging himself from a tree and leaving a note for someone to find him a couple hours later. The little town is thrown in an uproar when they find out that Mr. Hubbard, the white man who killed himself, left his entire property to his black housekeeper.
It's a racist town in the deep south and Jake Brigance finds himself deep in litigation when Hubbard leaves a holographic will hiring Jake as attorney of his estate.
Immediately you know that there is more to this story than we are offered right away. Why did Hubbard feel the need to leave his entire estate (amounting to 24 million!) to Lettie? Jake struggles to find the answer to this question and the trial takes a downward turn as more truths are exposed.
The final twist isn't so much a twist at all--we are simply exposed to parts of history that have remained buried and that have a direst impact on the trial's outcome.
Doesn't the novel sound good? Doesn't it sound like solid Grisham?
Unfortunately, I wonder if perhaps Grisham turned to his old character because he is running out of originality. Many of the characters we are introduced to in this novel are flat and one-dimensional. Jake has a touch of arrogance to him that I disliked. The judge is ineffectual and just strange.
Perhaps the only interesting characters were Ancil Hubbard, Seth Hubbard's estranged brother, and the disbarred alcoholic lawyer who tracks him down. I can't even remember the lawyer's name: obviously he wasn't that compelling of a character either.
In short, I feel that Grisham turned to this old character in a "pull a rabbit from a hat" trick. He resorted to using Jake as a way to bring readers back to him, but I remained disappointed by his writing quality.
Grisham spent the first 2/3 of the novel detailing the journey toward the trial. The actual trial and aftermath only lasted a few chapters. It was definitely not a nail biter. Perhaps Grisham should consider taking a break from writing.
I gave 3 stars to this novel because it did hold my attention and I didn't find it utterly painful to churn through. My criticisms are based on a comparison to older Grisham novels that I have read--perhaps if I was new to his work, I would have rated it higher.
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