Book Review – Sycamore Row

2.5 stars. John Grisham’s long-awaited sequel to A Time to Kill starts three years after, when the holographic will of a wealthy Ford County resident surfaces immediately after his suicide. The new will cuts out his barely-passable-as-human-beings children in favor of the housekeeper, and a legal battle ensues with Jake Brigance representing the estate.

From there, Sycamore Row devolves into hundreds of pages of legal minutiae, culminating in a trial featuring three surprises, two of which are heavily foreshadowed and the third utterly predictable from the opening pages of the book. And all three surprises are only permitted in the courtroom by loosey-goosey interpretations by the judge, which Grisham makes clear would not have stood up under appeal, necessitating an all-too-pat wrap-up that is one of the author’s specialties. And ultimately, the whole thing would have been unnecessary if Seth Hubbard had added about two sentences to his holographic will explaining why he was doing what he was doing rather than leaving mysterious clues.

For all the hype about the return to Ford County, this book really could have been set anywhere in the South, with entirely new characters–very little of A Time to Kill has any importance here, other than that we see resolution of a couple minor loose ends from it. And the civil proceedings lack the life-or-death drama of Sycamore Row‘s predecessor; even though many of the same themes are touched, they don’t have the rawness or immediacy of Brigance’s first big trial.

Sadly, Sycamore Row feels like Grisham just phoned this one in. It’s not a bad book, just very mediocre. Had it been with other characters, I might have enjoyed it a little more, but there is no way to read this book without comparing it with A Time to Kill, and this one is very faint in comparison.

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