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Book Notes

January 2, 2014

Grisham makes civil law dramatic in new book

John Grisham has the unique ability to write well, tell a good story, and educate his readers at the same time. His latest novel, “Sycamore Row,” is a prime example of that. It deals with a contested will and how the legal system works in hashing out the issue. Nothing is ever cut-and-dry and Grisham uses that fact and his experience as a lawyer to provide an intriguing story.

“Sycamore Row” is a loose sequel to his first novel, “A Time to Kill.”  I say “loose” because it can stand alone on its own. Many of the main characters are the same but unless you just read “A Time to Kill” you would not remember any of them. I read the book 15 years ago so I have no recollection of them or their personalities.

By the way, if you like Grisham novels and have not read “A Time to Kill” it is well worth it. It is not only an intense page-turner but says a lot about how hard it is to break into the publishing industry. 

Grisham was turned down by 28 publishers before a small firm agreed to print a limited edition of the novel. Once his second novel, “The Firm,” became a best-seller, “A Time to Kill” was re-issued and deservedly became a best-seller on its own.

I might also add here that if Grisham is your standard-issue American lawyer then the profession reeks of coffee. Every one of his novels seems to include the main character having a fresh pot of coffee every morning, noon, and night. Perhaps the best way to reduce the number of lawyers in this country is to ban the product outright. But I digress.

Back to the novel at hand. 

“Sycamore Row” begins with a man in rural Mississippi who hangs himself because he is dying of cancer and can’t stand the pain anymore. At the last minute he writes a new will to supersede his old one leaving most of his money to his black housekeeper and deliberately cutting out his kids. He mails the will with a handwritten note to the novel’s protagonist, a lawyer named Jake Brigance, explaining he knows what he’s doing and to defend the new will to the hilt.

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