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Book Review: Sycamore Row

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Nicole Tracy | Literary Columnist

Sycamore Row returns to world created in A Time to Kill

Sycamore Row is the sequel to John Grisham’s acclaimed first novel, A Time To Kill. The reader returns to Ford County, Mississippi, as Jake Brigance finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial that exposes a tortured history of racial tension. The synopsis from the book states:
“Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.
The second will raises many more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?”
A Time to Kill was set in the small town of Clanton, Mississippi, and the plot centered around a storyline of a 10-year-old black girl ravaged by two whites, an incensed father who takes the law into his own hands, killing the two rapists in a courthouse shooting, and of the young defense lawyer named Jake Brigance who saved him from certain death.
A Time to Kill was also made into a movie in 1996, starring Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sandra Bullock.
Twenty-five years later, but only three years in the story line, John Grisham returns to Clanton and reunites the reader with Jake. Sycamore Row’s story focuses on a new trial that exposes Clanton’s uneasy past with race relations.
Sycamore Row is not quite A Time to Kill, but it is enjoyable. John Grisham is a master of legal thriller and courtroom drama who more than does justice to his story in the book. One of the characteristics of a Grisham’s novel is the way he builds the plot, up to a heart pounding conclusion. The story is full of intrigue, conspiracy, suspense, drama and plot twists in the typical Grisham style, and as far as a Grisham novel goes, it fits the expectations perfectly.
There are a lot of characters in the story, but most of them are return characters from A Time to Kill, so the author didn’t spend a lot of time with their particular story lines – the author obviously intended for one to read A Time to Kill before delving into Sycamore Row.
Given that, the characters are quite true to their initial descriptions from the original story, and are well written from that standpoint. Picking up Sycamore Row is like a reunion with them.
If one is a fan of legal dramas, John Grisham, and enjoyed A Time To Kill, this book would be right up one’s alley. If one hasn’t read A Time to Kill, don’t read Sycamore Row until you do. It’s an excellent example of John Grisham’s work, and quite possibly some of his best written characters.

A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row are both available at the Howard County Public Library. Copies are limited, so if either is unavailable, ask at the front desk to be put on a waiting list for them.

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