Sycamore Row by John Grisham – Book Review.
Seth Hubbard is in his seventies and is suffering from terminal cancer. He’s lived a varied life through two marriages and two expensive divorces, separations that might have finished many a man, but not old stubborn Seth. After losing much of his wealth through the divorce courts he sets his mind on re-building his businesses and financial worth through sheer hard work, long hours, and risk taking, and in the end it pays off handsomely for Seth, for he is now, once again, a wealthy man.
He goes to a big bunch of city lawyers and makes an official will leaving his substantial assets to his children who he rarely sees, and then things start to get interesting.
Some time later he drafts another will, handwritten, not witnessed, no lawyers involved, removing all his family as beneficiaries, and instead leaves almost everything, and it is considerable indeed, to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang.
Then he posts the new will to a struggling local lawyer he has never met, named Jake Brigance.
Once done, he ambles into the orchard, and, with no one else about, hangs himself from a tree.
Lettie Lang is in her forties and she’s still a slim pert looking woman. She’s led a hard life, having to fight for every single penny that comes her way, a situation that isn’t helped by a wastrel of a husband who’s away more often than not, and when he does deign to return home he’s usually drunk, broke, and on the lookout for cash, not that Lettie ever has any spare funds.
When news breaks in the community of Seth’s death, and the will, and the beneficiary, it’s the talk of the town, the county, and even the State. Speculation is rife, precisely what services was Lettie providing for old mister Hubbard up there in the big old house, for him to amend his will like that? Gossip is king. Human beings are gossiping creatures. They can’t help themselves. Put yourself in their shoes. Chances are, you’d gossip too, and because we are so fascinated by gossip, it usually makes for a good story. It certainly has here.
Of course the family don’t take all that lying down and recruit an army of highly paid lawyers to set things right, and recover what they believe is truly and rightfully theirs. Battle lines drawn, let the campaign begin.
So begins John Grisham’s 27th novel, “Sycamore Row”, (Thirty if you count the Theodore Boones.) a book that is a long awaited sequel to his very first story, “A Time to Kill”, a novel that mister Grisham self published because he couldn’t find a publisher to take it on!
How there must be publishers out there kicking themselves over that wee mistake, but a great lesson for anyone who is writing and publishing their own work today. Sometimes good things can and do happen!!
But back to “Sycamore Row”.
The book is set in the same time as “A Time to Kill”, - late eighties, when attitudes to race and relationships were a bit different back then. Have things moved on since? Maybe a tad. My knowledge of the deep south isn’t great, but I certainly hope so.
This is a cracking good read that I can highly recommend. It’s easy to get into, fast paced, and a real page-turner, and it contains the trademark Grisham touches of humour, always welcome, and most of all, it’s a great story. As you'd expect there are subplots aplenty, lots of twists and turns that keep the story moving and the reader interested.
I have said it before and I will say it again: John Grisham is a great writer, and in my opinion, underrated, and perhaps because practically all his books become instant bestsellers, I think he is definitely taken for granted. We should celebrate him while we have him. We are very lucky.
This is the best book I have read in the past twelve months and one that I would love to have written myself, and I am once again looking forward to his next work. Hopefully, I won’t have long to wait. Five stars! No brainer.
And here's a real treat, the man himself talking about "Sycamore Row". Enjoy....