Saturday, 9 November 2013

Sycamore Row: John Grisham in his element

A old, reclusive man, dying of cancer, hangs himself from a sycamore tree in his estate, leaving behind nearly all his hard-earned millions to his black housekeeper. His estranged children, who have been cut out of Seth Hubbard's "substantial" fortune in the last-minute handwritten will, are having none of it – the battelines are drawn for a long legal tussle.     

John Grisham returns to his beloved Ford County, Mississippi, for a sequel to his 1989 debut novel. Three years after the events of A Time to Kill, when young attorney Jake Brigance gets his big win in a racially charged trial in the town of Clanton, his services  are called on again to defend Seth's will. “I want this will defended at all costs,” Seth says in a letter to Jake, peppered with choice words at lawyers. “Fight them, Mr. Brigance, to the bitter end.” 

It's a good ol' fashioned courtroom brawl, and Grisham is in his element, painting it in all its colour and plentiful shades of grey. It's supposed to be dull – there are enough warnings of “death by deposition”, and the legal process, as always, is described in detail. But in a Grisham book, that only brings a comforting familiarity that draws out the chuckles, a sign to put on your softest pyjamas and get some hot chocolate for when stuff hits the fan.              

What made Seth do what he did? Sycamore Row's great reveal is tense and competent, but comes as less of a surprise than other plot twists we've known the author to pull off. Compared to its predecessor, this one seems to tread more cautiously around political correctness. And Lettie Lang, the black housekeeper, is no Carl Lee Hailey.   

Repeated jokes and some inexplicable minor talking points in a 550-page novel are other gripes, but there was, nonetheless, a satisfaction in meeting old characters and stars of other Grisham novels set in the area: Harry Rex, overweight divorce lawyer and loyal friend; Lucien Wilbanks, drunken landlord and mentor; Willie Traynor, one-time journalist and millionaire; the no-nonsense Judge Atlee who we know has some secrets of his own...There's definitely enough character in Ford County for a few more Acts.

1 comment:

Mirza Ghalib Shayari said...

John grisham crafts a nice law trial around the troubles that Black's faced at the turn off the century including lynching by the Ku Klux klan and how a dying white man goes about fixing the wrongs of his fore fathers through a will and an inheritance ..

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