Title: Sycamore Row
Author: John Grisham
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Sycamore Row centers around the courtroom drama that ensues after the sudden and tragic death of self-made millionaire, Seth Hubbard. Seth lives in rural Mississippi and in ten years, was able to amass a fortune of over twenty million dollars. When he dies, he mails his last will and testament to Jake Brigance, a lawyer who gained the town’s respect after winning a racially charged murder trial three years earlier. Seth deliberately leaves his children, ex-wives, and grandchildren out of his will and instructs Jake to do everything he can to uphold his handwritten will. Jake knows that this will not be an easy task when he sees that Seth has left five percent of his fortune to the church, five percent to his long lost brother, and ninety percent to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang. When the news spreads, Seth’s adult children swoop in with a swarm of lawyers as they attempt to take back the money that they think is rightfully theirs. In a brilliant legal thriller, the Hubbard children attempt to prove that Lettie forced Seth to write her into the will and Jake must find the answer as to why Seth Hubbard would leave his fortune to Lettie.
The novel is told mainly from the point of view of Jake. Jake had never met Seth Hubbard, but he vows to protect the will at all costs. At the beginning of the novel, Jake seems a little money hungry, but this could be a result of his own financial instabilities. Once he meets Lettie Lang and begins to learn more about Seth’s past, he seems to be genuinely invested in the case and I found myself rooting for him as the novel progressed. Along with a few other supporting characters, the novel also explores the perspective of Lettie Lang, the black housekeeper. Lettie is a middle aged, career housekeeper who is stuck in a bad marriage. She is dissatisfied with her current situation and when the news of her impending inheritance spreads, she must deal with the stress of gossip and rumors, as well as greedy family members. Lettie handled these obstacles well and I thought that she was a very likeable character, much more deserving of the fortune than the very unlikeable Hubbard children.
There are a number of characters that are introduced throughout the novel and I think that Grisham does a great job of distinguishing the characters apart from one another. There are a lot of lawyers in the novel and I think that Grisham gave them all their own personalities and I never found myself confusing them. I really liked Lucien Wilbanks, who was disbarred and left his legal practice to Jake. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Lucien and Jake and I found their relationship to be interesting. I also liked Lettie’s daughter, Portia, who Jake ends up hiring as a paralegal. Portia is interested in becoming a lawyer and she quickly becomes the perfect liaison between Jake and Lettie.
I think that the last hundred pages are what really makes this a fantastic novel. The majority of the novel is building up to the eventual jury trial that will determine if Seth Hubbard’s will is valid and if he had testamentary capacity to write it. I enjoyed the build up, but the ending was incredibly powerful. The final deposition is what decides the case and I was absolutely stunned at what the deposition revealed. I thought that the ending was excellent and it was one of the best written endings that I’ve read in a long time.
Overall, I thought that this was a great novel. The character development and progression of the plot were very well done. I think that Grisham has a wonderful writing style and he was really able to bring this legal thriller to life. I would recommend Sycamore Row to anyone who enjoys a good courtroom drama. Sycamore Row was inspired by an earlier Grisham novel, A Time to Kill. If you have enjoyed any of Grisham’s other novels, you will definitely enjoy Sycamore Row.
If you have read Sycamore Row, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Sycamore Row on Amazon, please click here.