Friday, September 09, 2022

Fiction Review: Sycamore Row

It's been many years since I last read a John Grisham novel. In fact, searching my blog, I didn't find a single review of a Grisham novel ... and I started the blog in 2006! So, I was glad to finally read one again because I know I enjoyed them years ago. I finally tackled Sycamore Row by John Grisham, which has been on my shelf for years, for Big Book Summer 2022, and I'm so glad I did. Just as I remember of Grisham's novels, it was a thought-provoking, gripping page-turner.

Lawyer Jake Brigance of the small town of Clanton, Mississippi, is at the center of this novel. Jake was the main character of John Grisham's very first novel, A Time to Kill, which I read back in the early 90's! In that story, Jake defends a Black man who takes vengeance after two white men attack his young daughter. Jake's actions shatter the norms in this still deeply-segregated Southern town. In this novel, several years later, in 1988, race is again front-and-center in a high-profile case for Jake. This time, a wealthy white man named Seth Hubbard, who is dying of cancer, commits suicide. He carefully planned everything out ahead of time, including a last-minute handwritten will that he mailed to Jake the day before he died. In this will and a cover letter to Jake, Seth (who's never met Jake) clearly states that this will supersedes the one created by a big law firm in Tupelo a year ago. This new will completely cuts out Seth's two ex-wives and his estranged adult children and grandchildren. Instead, Seth leaves 90% of his sizable estate to his Black maid, Lettie. When the news gets out, this causes an uproar in town, of course. Jake takes his role to defend the new will very seriously, and the town sees its biggest courtroom drama since Jake's last big case. With so much money at stake, big-city lawyers from Memphis and Tupelo try to disrupt things, as Jake and a few local helpers struggle to win the case. The big question on everyone's minds is ... why would Seth do such a thing?

I had forgotten what a good writer Grisham is and how wonderful he is at creating tension in a story. This one begins with Seth's suicide, and I was completely hooked right from those first pages. The case here is a complicated one, as the prosecutors try to prove that Seth didn't know what he was doing and was unduly influenced by Lettie. For her part, Lettie is stunned at the news of the will and is not happy with all the attention on her, as the whole town judges her , and "family" she's never met come out of the woodwork to claim a piece of her new-found fortune. What I think was meant to be the big reveal at the end--why Seth did what he did--I thought was pretty obvious from early foreshadowing. However, the book was still very compelling and gripping, especially once the trial begins. Grisham writes amazing courtroom drama scenes, and this novel is no exception. And there were still many plot twists along the way that took me by surprise. It was a fast-paced, enjoyable, and suspenseful read. I'm so glad I finally got to it, and I won't let so much time go by again before reading another Grisham. I see he has a newer novel out, A Time for Mercy, that also features Jake Brigance, so I'm adding that one to my list!

447 pages, Doubleday

Random House Audio

This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:


Mount TBR Challenge (I should get double credit for this one!)

Diversity Challenge

Big Book Summer

RIP Challenge



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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, read. by Michael Beck, and/or download it from Audible.


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Or you can order Sycamore Row from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I have enjoyed all the Grisham books I've read and remember Sycamore Row as one of my favorites along with Grey Mountian. I have another one on my TBR shelves, maybe I'll put it on my October pile.

    1. Yes, Grisham makes for good fall reading! I'll have to look for Grey Mountain.