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John Grisham returns to 'Sycamore Row'

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Sycamore Row, a novel by John Grisham

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With “Sycamore RowJohn Grisham returns to Clanton, Mississippi, scene of his best-selling novel “A Time to Kill.” Time has passed since Jake Brigance won his famous case:

His most glorious moment had come and gone. The acquittal of Carl Lee Hailey was three years ago, and Jake sometimes feared he was now beyond his pinnacle. As always, though, he brushed those doubts aside and reminded himself that he was only thirty-five. He was a gladiator with many great courtroom victories before him.

“Sycamore Row” gives Jake another chance to prevail in the legal arena. “I think I’ve been hired by Mr. Seth Hubbard,” he tells his friend Ozzie Walls, one of two black sheriffs in the state.

Seth Hubbard, a wealthy businessman who is dying of lung cancer, has hung himself from a sycamore tree on his property. On the Monday after Hubbard’s death, Jake receives a letter asking him to defend a will that he hand-wrote the day before his suicide. This holographic will revokes a previous will that left the bulk of his multimillion dollar estate to his two children and grandchildren. He tells Jake:

I specifically cut out my two adult children, their children, and my two ex-wives. These are not nice people and they will fight, so get ready. My estate is substantial – they have no idea of its size – and when this is made known they will attack. Fight them, Mr. Brigance, to the bitter end. We must prevail.

The family attacks, especially when it becomes know that Hubbard has left 90% of his estate to his African-American housekeeper, Lettie Lang.

Why, Jake wonders, would Hubbard leave a massive estate to a maid? Was he in his right mind? And what, if anything, does his decision have to do with a section of his property once called Sycamore Row? In order to answer these questions, Jake must first expose the hidden depths of racial hatred in Ford County, Mississippi. In the pocess, Jake comes to admire Seth Hubbard:

“He knew he was dying, yet he refused to do what would have been expected. He chose a far more controversial route. He knew his reputation would be tarnished, that his family would curse his name, but he didn’t care. He did what he thought was right.”

Grisham’s reputation as a master of the legal suspense novel was deservedly built on “A Time to Kill” and the numerous novels that have followed. While “Sycamore Row” is in many ways a visit with old friends and a gritty courtroom drama, it is also a powerful story about racial tensions in the Deep South that transcends the legal thriller genre.

“Sycamore Row” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.

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