Seth Hubbard, a millionaire suffering from late stage lung cancer, hangs himself from a sycamore tree, leaving a hand-written will leaving the majority of his estate to his maid, Lettie Lang, who nursed him through his final days on earth. Some 25 real-world years after John Grisham's first novel, he takes us back to Clanton in Ford County, Mississippi. Three book years after Jake Brigance successfully defended a black man accused of murdering the three white men that raped and killed his daughter in “A Time to Kill,” Grisham re-introduces us to Jake, Judge Attlee, and the racial tensions that abound in this small southern town.
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The local police discover Seth Hubbard hanging from a sycamore tree and promptly rule it a suicide. He had left a suicide note and a hand-written will leaving what is discovered to be about 20 million dollars to his black maid. He also left 5% to his church and 5% to his brother whom he hadn't seen in years and wasn't sure was still alive. This hand-written will would over-ride the will he had drawn up by a law firm two years earlier. What makes this story interesting is that the new will was legal in Mississippi, provided he had the mental capacity to write it and there was no undue tampering from anyone named in the will. Seth hated lawyers and had a healthy distrust for all but Jake Brigance, whom he wrote to requesting that he protect his new will at all costs.
Since, Seth Hubbard was worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 million dollars, everybody wanted a piece of his estate. In the first will, Seth's children, Herschel and Ramona were named as the primary recipients of his estate. Herschel and Ramona were deadbeats according to their father that rarely came to see him, unless they needed something. So, they of course hired lawyers to protect their interest. Lettie, whose husband cared more for drinking than he did working, had a son in prison, and a daughter recently returned from the military. Lettie's supposed friends and relatives came out of the wood work to help her stake her claim to the money, hoping she would reward them monetarily after she received her reward.
Grisham takes us through the boring and mundane process of establishing the estates worth, jury selection, and trial procedures. After all, not everything about a trial is filled with action and adventure. But, the events outside the courtroom, such as Lettie's husband arrest for driving under the influence and vehicular homicide, Lucien's search for Seth's brother, a merchant marine with drug and alcohol abuse problems, the search for Lettie's real parents, since she is an orphan, and the racially charged events in the town where the trial takes place.
Without revealing the surprise ending, Jake Brigance, Judge Attlee, and Lettie come to an agreement they think everyone involved in the estate of the late Seth Hubbard will benefit from.
Grisham is a master story teller that knows his way around a courtroom. He has proven that time and time again in his other books, but in “Sycamore Row” as in “A Time to Kill” he showed us his ability to pull us into the small town of Clanton that is the Deep South and hold us spellbound until the final verdict.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like all of John Grisham's novels, particularly those dealing with lawyers, courtrooms, and the tension it brings to society outside the trial.
Best scene in story:
The events surrounding Lucien, a disbarred lawyer and alcoholic that goes in search of Seth's brother, were very engaging.
Opinion about the main character:
Jake Brigance is smart lawyer with a gray heart and a desire for justice.