Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No. 7: John Grisham Strikes Again

John Grisham, one of our most popular novelists, has done it again. His latest book is Sycamore Row (Doubleday, 2013). It is set in 1988 in the fictional Mississippi town of Clanton. It involves many of the characters in his first book, A Time to Kill, which was set in 1985.

Seth Hubbard, a white man in his 60s, is dying of lung cancer and commits suicide by hanging himself from an old sycamore tree. He leaves a suicide note containing instructions about his funeral, a letter to Jake Brigance, the attorney hero of Grisham's first book, and a handwritten will executed the day before he committed suicide.

The handwritten will revokes Hubbard's previous will, which was of the usual type prepared by a law firm. The handwritten will disinherits Hubbard's two adult children, their children, and his two ex-wives. It leaves the bulk of his estate, which turned out to be large, to his black housekeeper, with relatively small bequests to a church and a long lost brother. The housekeeper had been with Hubbard for three years and had cared for him during his difficult final days. The handwritten will names the executor and instructs him to appoint Jake the attorney for the estate. The letter to Jake instructs him to carry out the terms of the handwritten will "at all costs," and warns there will be a big fight. The letter to Jake includes these sentences: "The doctors have given me only weeks to live and I'm tired of the pain.... If you smoke cigarettes, take the advice of a dead man and stop immediately."

Hubbard was correct about the fight. All through the book I wondered whether the second word of the title was "row," rhyming with "grow," or whether it was "row," rhyming with "brow." At the end of the book we learn there was a row (rhyming with grow) of sycamore trees of which the hanging tree was a remnant. However, the legal war that ensued certainly qualified as a row (rhyming with brow).

I have read all of Grisham's books, and I think this one may be his best yet. It is 447 pages but is a page-turner.