I know I have definitely read John Grisham books before… but I can’t for the life of me remember any of the particulars. Somehow though, leafing through Sycamore Row brought such a great sense of familiarity, I had finished the first few chapters before I had even realised I was reading it. I have no idea whether Grisham’s representation of small town Mississippi is realistic, but then, I also didn’t realise immediately that this novel was set in 1988 – so I guess I’ll just take the scene at face value.
This novel picks up the story of Jake Brigance – a small town lawyer who was at the heart of Grisham’s first novel A Time to Kill. (Note: though that novel has now been majorly spoiled for me by the events in this one, it still sounds like a great read. Perhaps read that one first if you’re interested.) Here, Jake is drawn into a dispute over a will, after a wealthy local white man hangs himself, but directs Jake by letter to ensure his family is disinherited in favour of his black housekeeper. Did the housekeeper take advantage of a sick old man? Was he in his right mind in making this final will? Is it morally right to leave money outside the family? The town is divided on the rights and wrongs of the issue. Jake is suddenly faced with a court battle to defend the will against the slick, big city lawyers, aided only by the housekeeper’s daughter, his alcoholic former partner (now disbarred), and the local go-to divorce lawyer.
Though the twists and turns here weren’t that hard to see coming, I still enjoyed this story. The courtroom setting was not too dry as the story really kept coming back to the community and the people, facing issues of race, family and money in a small town.