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on 30 October 2013
John Grisham keeps veering between writing exceptionally bad books for children (the Theodore Boone series) and outstandingly good legal thrillers for adults. This comes into the latter category.

We were first introduced to Jake Brigance, an idealistic and very poor lawyer, in A Time to Kill. He is still practising law in a small town in the deep south of America. Things are not going all that well for him. After his triumph in the murder trial which featured in A Time to Kill, the Klan has burned down his house and he, his wife and young daughter are living in reduced circumstances. The insurance company is refusing to pay for his destroyed house. Work (or paying work) is almost non-existent. The outlook is pretty bleak.

Then something happens. Seth Hubbard, an elderly (white) man in the final stages of lung cancer commits suicide, by hanging himself. The day before doing that he writes out a new will naming his black housekeeper as principal beneficiary and specifically excluding his children and grandchildren. He posts the will to Jake, whom he has never met, and charges him with the duty of championing it. Though no one realised it during his life time, Seth was a very rich man. His estate is worth more than $20M.

Seth's rather disagreeable son and daughter decide, not surprisingly, to challenge the will. They, in a rather quaint American phrase, "lawyer up". Before too many days have passed the town's court house is packed with greedy lawyers, all on contingency fees, who are determined to prove that Seth didn't know what he was doing when he left his vast fortune to a black servant.

It would be wrong to say more about the plot, save that the end is entirely predictable (and none the worse for that). But what I can say is that the story is wonderfully gripping, the characters are very well drawn and no fan of Grisham will be disappointed.

All is not perfect. The refusal of Jake and his wife to keep any alcohol in their house does make one rather irritated by them. When they entertain the daughter of Seth's housekeeper (a young woman eager to become a lawyer who has presciently been given the name "Portia") to dinner, they express momentary distress as she presents them with a bottle of wine (but good manners win the day and they drink it). It seems that, even in a small town in which almost everyone goes to church every week, the modern American way of referring to Christmas as "Holidays" has taken hold (can that really be true?). And, this crops up in many Grisham novels, the judge and his favourite lawyer (Jake) spend endless hours together, without any of the other lawyers being present, deciding how the case should be run (if that is really what happens in America it is truly dreadful).

The court scenes are splendid. The story is one which you have to read to the end.

I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent novel.

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What a book. It is some time since I have read a John Grisham, Mainly because I had pretty much read them all. When I fell across this one in the library I grabbed it and read it as soon as I got home. Now I started it on Saturday night and spent ally day Sunday reading it. I was actually planning on working on my website rather than reading, so that will show you how good this book is.

Jake Brigance is a lawyer who we met in one of Grisham's previous books. Brigance is white. He is asked by Seth Hubbard, who is also white, to deal with his final will. Seth has left all his money to his black housekeeper, and this is in historically racial Mississippi. As can be understood, the dead man's family are not happy about this and object. This leads to an outstanding legal thriller. The story line is superb and moves the book along a t cracking pace. The characters are so well drawn that they seem to leap of the page. Some of them are eccentric, and one of those whom I particularly liked was the judge. We need judges like this in real life. Lettie Lang, the housekeeper is also a great character who finds herself both bewildered and excited about what is happening to her.

This is no dry courtroom drama. There are twists and turns aplenty which keep you reading 'just one more chapter'. I may not have finished my website, but I have read a book which I can now highly recommend.
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I've not read a John Grisham novel for a very long time but was tempted by his new book Sycamore Row which is a sequel to his very first book published in 1989, A Time to Kill. In the first novel we see young attorney Jake Brignance defending Carl Lee Hailey, who has murdered two white racists who have raped and terribly injured his ten-year old daughter. Jake takes on Carl Lee's defence but as a result, the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan pursue a vendetta against him, leading to Jake being shot at and his house and property torched. A Time to Kill made John Grisham's name as a crime writer unafraid to tackle the most inflammatory topics and he has had a hugely successful career as a result, publishing about 30 best-selling novels.

It has taken John Grisham 25 years to return to Ford County but the events described in it happened only three years on from those in A Time to Kill. We find ourselves in 1989 and Jake is now living with his family in poor rented accommodation while he tries to get adequate insurance compensation for the arson attack on his home. While he has won general acclaim for his work in the Hailey trial, it has not brought him success among the highly conservative population who tend to employ more established legal firms for advice and litigation.

The book opens with an employee of a local businessman, Seth Hubbard, being told to meet his boss one Sunday afternoon. The employee finds Seth hanging by the neck from a sycamore tree on his estate. He has been suffering from terminal lung cancer which has become too painful to bear and he has ended his life quickly but shockingly. The next morning, a letter arrives in Jake Brignance's office from the dead man, instructing him to take care of his affairs and containing a new hand-written will which renounces an earlier will drawn up by a respected legal firm.

Brigance opens the letter and reads that Mr. Hubbard has written a new holographic will that renounces one he wrote a year ago in which he had left money to his daughter and son as well as their grandchildren. Now, his children are cut out of the will and 90% of his money is left to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang, who has served him so faithfully over the last few years.

As Jake predicts while reading the letter, an almighty legal battle is going to be fought over the new will. Was Seth competent to make it or did his lung cancer and the pain-killing drugs he was taking effect his mind so badly that he didn't know what he was doing? Did Lettie have exercise and undue influence over Seth in his dying days, perhaps even earlier on in their relationship by offering sexual favours? There is no doubt that every affected party is going to recruit lawyers to represent them, while Jake will have to stand alone as defender of the will and Seth's right to make whatever bequests he wished.

This is a long and convoluted story. As Jake expected, Seth's children recruit powerful teams of lawyers to represent them, while Lettie herself finds a black lawyer from Chicago who seems to have the get up and go to stand against these southern vested interests and racial prejudice. At least Jake has the comfort of knowing that the judge in the case is going to be the elderly Reuben Atlee who seems to be well aware of the trickiness that will be employed by the other lawyers in their efforts to rake off huge fees from any sums awarded to their clients.

While most of Grisham's books have had vast commercial success and were perhaps designed to do so, his motivation in writing A Time to Kill was around having a story to tell which he had to put down on paper. In Sycamore Row, this same motivation burns through the pages and has led to a novel which would stand as a masterpiece for any writer.
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What can one say about Mr. Grisham that has not been said before. He writes great stories that pull you in from the first page and keep you there until the last. This is no exception: where there's a will there's a family and if the inheritance is big enough more lawyers than you can shake a stick at . Did old Seth know what he was doing when his hand written will cut out his family and left his vast fortune to his housekeeper and carer Lettie who was a black lady. Even in this 1980s Mississippi his final action stirred up racial resentment.
Mr.G documents the lawyers wheeling and dealing expertly and keeps the readers interest alive throughout the court proceedings.
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on 10 August 2014
‘Sycamore Row’(2013) by John Grisham is a sequel to ‘A Time To Kill’ (1989) and includes several allusions to the earlier work. However, there are homages to his other works by this prolific (and very successful!) author, such as ‘The Runaway Jury’, ‘The Testament’ and (really a sort of prequel) ‘The Summons’. So really it’s more of the same to the delight of his fans such as myself. Again it’s a legal David takes on Goliath in courtroom conflict – or, more accurately, defies ten opponents.
There are certain weaknesses. One red herring turns out to be really a damp squib and the ‘deus ex machina’ (to use a theatrical term) I basically guessed about 300 pages before it appeared. Jake Brigance (the hero) has a far too cosy relationship with the judge, legal help seems to fall into his lap, and the sides are definitely black and white with never a shade of grey between them,
Even so, I was really hooked, especially by the odd twists inserted to upset the steady progress of justice and moved by the final revelation, even though guessed some time before.
Just as I’ve learned horse racing from Trevor Francis and late18th century naval warfare from Patrick O’Brien, I’m learning US Law – and the terrifying mass of lawyers, paralegals and court procedures from John Grisham.
So, well done, Mr.. Grisham 5 stars and I look forward to buying your next book.
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on 27 September 2014
Well, the book’s poor enough – being slow and unmemorable – but I have a major beef with his publishers or, more specifically, with whichever moron publicist decided to give away the novel’s only surprise … on the front cover and in the blurb on the back cover. I kid you not.

Sycamore Row is a follow-up (of sorts) to A Time to Kill, the novel that made John Grisham’s name as a fine writer of courtroom dramas. It again features Jake Brigance, the lawyer in a sleepy Mississippi backwater who made his name in that bestseller defending a black man who killed the men who raped and left for dead his young daughter. This time around, Jake has been asked to defend the last will and testament of Seth Hubbard, who has scrapped a properly drawn-up will leaving his property to his family in favour of a new, handwritten will leaving virtually everything he owns ($24 million) to his black housemaid.

SPOILER ALERT! Read no further if you don’t want to know the ending and, for heaven’s sake, rip the cover off the paperback if you want to read it, or buy the Kindle version.

The book is 516 pages long. We find out why the novel is even called Sycamore Row on page 492, where we also find out why Seth left his money to Lettie in the first place. Or you could just read the cover of the book instead: ‘Sycamore Row – He will make them pay’ is on the front page. And on the back: ‘As a child, Seth Hubbard witnessed something no person should ever see. When he kills himself, he is an old, rich man. In that moment, his revenge begins.’

It’s rural Mississippi in the 1980s. In the 1920s a boy witnesses something that, 60 years later, brings him to the decision to leave his fortune to a black servant. Fill in the gaps yourself – I did - and you don’t even need to read the book, which is pretty turgid and tells us nothing new about the American justice system or about race relations in the Southern states. I’ve enjoyed most of John Grisham’s books but this was writing by numbers and I’m disappointed I wasted my time on it.
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on 6 August 2014
Unfortunately not a return to form in my eyes. There is only so interesting a probate case can be, and the first half of the book is spent building background on the characters with nothing much actually happening. The writing is fine, but it feels like John Grisham is writing this with it being made into a film in mind. I found it quite slow paced and it was clear what was going to happen a long time before the end.
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on 28 November 2014
I've read many of John Grisham's early publications and enjoyed them all immensely. But his more recent offerings have been, in my humble opinion, fairly mediocre. So I was hoping that his return to Clanton, Mississippi and the character of Jake Brigance, who was first introduced in A Time to Kill, would re-capture the drama and suspense that made those early books so enjoyable.

Unfortunately that didn't quite happen. I found the book very slow in the beginning and I was about 100 pages in before I found myself beginning to really engage with the story. However I really admire that Grisham does not shy away from controversial issues such as racism. He confronts it head on, highlighting its prevalence thus challenging the reader to acknowledge its existence.

Certainly not my favourite John Grisham novel but once it gets going, it's a decent read.
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on 8 August 2016
I haven't read a John Grisham novel for years but I do remember enjoying his books as holiday reads. This is a very good storyline and a fascinating setting for a Brit! A mid 1980's Mississippi that has changed little since the civil war in its racial attitudes and an area that still feels its economic effects. However, there were so many things I found exasperating at times that I cannot give it a higher rating than 3 stars. It is utterly overloaded with characters that I found myself dizzy at times keeping up with them all. There are a multitude of occasions where Grisham indulges in totally unnecessary detail that added zero to the story and probably halted the story telling. At times I found this so infuriating that I would have liked to shake him and tell him to just get on with it!!! Laborious detail about diners being just one example. He went off on tangents on a couple of occasions. For example, he went to great lengths to describe the case of the one eyed preacher and Judge Atlee. What did it matter? Did it advance the story?? Absolutely not. It takes a VERY long time to find out why Seth Hubbard wrote his extraordinary will and you need a certain amount of stamina to hang in there. Would I recommend it? Not sure. If you're a John Grisham fan then probably.
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on 14 December 2014
Being a John Grisham fan since the early days I saw this and all the top recommendations and knew I was in for a great read. WRONG. This book was a major disappointment and for the first time with this author I was wishing it would hurry up and finish. It took two thirds of the book to get started.. The rest was stretched out with lawyers being added in huge numbers with strange yet often similar names which meant I had to keep going back through the book to find out who they were. Not many of us have time to read a book in one or two sittings and can remember who's who.
It was easy to guess the end in advance and what could have been a really good book needed severe pruning as it could have been told better in about 350 or so pages. I read this in kindle so had no trouble with spoilers on the book cover - I won't say more as I don't want to give away the ending to anyone who is about to read it. I appreciate many others loved and rated this book highly but for me it missed the mark.
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