Twenty five years ago, the initial print run of John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was 5000 copies. His second novel propelled him onto the bestseller lists - where every subsequent novel has landed.
In his latest novel, Sycamore Row, Grisham takes us back to Clanton, Mississippi and his first character - 'street lawyer' Jake Brigance. Three years ago, in 1985, Jake successfully defended a black man accused of murder - the murder of the white rapists of his ten year old daughter. The trial and verdict divided the town and racial tension still runs high.
I was waiting for just the right time to crack the spine of Sycamore Row. (Figuratively speaking of course because I would never hurt a book. ;)
I just knew that once I started, I wouldn't want to put it down. And I was right - I was hooked from the opening lines....
"They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind."
It turns out that reclusive Seth was extremely wealthy. And that he changed his will in the days before his death. His new handwritten will lands in the office of Jake Brigance, delivered by mail the day after Seth's death. Hubbard has cut out his children and left the bulk of his estate to his housekeeper of three years - a black woman named Lettie Lang. Jake doesn't know Seth Hubbard but is determined to follow Seth's instructions to the letter of the law.
By doing so, he's in for another fight....
Oh man! I loved it, loved it, loved it!!! Nobody does legal thrillers like Grisham. Really, you don't even need the 'legal' qualifier. Grisham is pure and simple, one heck of a storyteller. Absolutely one of the best. His prose flow seamlessly, drawing the reader ever deeper into the story and the town of Clanton. I could picture myself sitting at the diner, with Dell pouring coffee, and listening to the latest gossip.
The characters are really well drawn. Jake is extremely likable, principled and the kind of lawyer you'd want in your corner. I also quite enjoy the other supporting legal players - drunken, but canny Lucien Wilbanks, the pronouncements of Harry Rex and the astuteness of Sheriff Ozzie Walls.
Grisham brings his setting to life - the town, culture, attitudes and more are all detailed and benefit greatly from the author's own past. The legal machinations employed are just as detailed (and interesting) Grisham both grew up in the South and practiced law in Mississippi.
The plotting is excellent, the tension palpable and the journey to the final pages and reveal is oh so good. Absolutely addictive reading, Stick this one in your own stocking - five stars for sure!
Read an excerpt of Sycamore Row. You can find John Grisham on Facebook.