I have been a longtime fan of John Grisham – I may have been the only 13 year old I knew reading his books. After recent disappointments such as “The Appeal,” and “The Testament,” I had all but sworn him off. Yet, I found myself excited to read “Sycamore Row,” a novel where attorney Jake Brigance and the other notable characters from “A Time To Kill” faced another racially charged civil litigation matter. From the very first pages, I could tell that the book was written in the original Grisham style I first came to love. The omnipresent viewpoint of the story gave insight into every character, which created an entire town of personalities all interested in whether a handwritten will that left $20 million dollars to Lettie, the African-American housekeeper of the deceased, was valid. With the will written just two days before the author committed suicide, everyone contested the will’s validity. The day after the death, Jake Brigance received a copy of this handwritten will in his mail asking him to be the estate’s lawyer and ensure Lettie received the money.
The references to the heated Carl Lee Hailey trial in “Time” provided an excellent background here without overshadowing the plot of the book. I liked the legal aspect of the story and the strategy Brigance had for enforcing the will. Early on, it was obvious that there was a long-buried secret that would support giving Lettie the money. My biggest problem with the teaser was that it was clear that once the secret was revealed, everyone would want Lettie to have the money. The expectation of that secret detracted from the heated legal battle Grisham created because I assumed that the secret would be revealed in time for her to receive the money and for the book to have a happy ending. Once it was revealed, I didn’t think the secret was as shocking or as intricate as it could have been. It was certainly not worth giving someone $20 million dollars.
Overall, this was a great book with excellent writing and characters. For lovers of the old Grisham, this is a must read!