There’s something to be said for nostalgia, that warm feeling you get when you think about those people who shared wonderful times with you. Or at least you remember them as wonderful because time has put distance between you and what you felt at the time. Maybe you were there for the trial of Carl Lee Hailey, and the sensational nature of that verdict still lives in your veins. That trial turned the lowly street lawyer, Jake Brigance, into a celebrity in Clanton, and even now, three years later, he still enjoys that status, at least in your recollection. But you’ve been gone for three years, and there’s a new trial in Clanton, one that also has enormous ramifications. Welcome back.
Like a lot of people, I read A Time to Kill 17 years ago, but it doesn’t seem that much time has passed. Indeed, since Sycamore Row picks up a mere three years later, not much time has passed, at least in Jake Brigance’s world. But the real world has moved at a fast pace, and John Grisham himself has put out a ton of books since then. Many of those books dealt with the law, as this one does. Many of those books had complex family situations, as this book does. But not a one of them made me as invested in the outcome as this one did. Well, not since A Time to Kill, actually.
I had high hopes for this one, too. Since I first heard that Grisham was releasing a sequel (at long last) to A Time to Kill, I couldn’t help but get hyped up, even though I haven’t read many sequels done right lately, especially not in the law genre. Usually my high hopes fizzle, though, and the magic cannot be recaptured once it’s let out of the bottle the first time, to dance and play at will. Well, this book proved to me once more that Grisham can accomplish some things other authors wish they could do, which is create a credible sequel years after the first was released.
At the start of Sycamore Row, Seth Hubbard writes a will leaving his immense fortune to his black housekeeper, and completely cuts out his adult children. Then he commits suicide, and leaves a note asking Jake to protect the handwritten will at all costs. The story is one startling revelation after another that all team together to make that a daunting task, even for Jake Brigance. What I still marvel about, when it comes to Grisham, is how he makes his protagonists imminently believable without being saintly. Jake is a regular lawyer, with a massive ego, but he makes you want to be on his side from the start regardless.
Numerous references to the Hailey trial make it seem like Grisham is trying a little too hard to remind you that this is a sequel, but even that doesn’t come across too heavy-handed. It has, after all, been a very long three years for us readers. With surprises and twists at every corner, the book drew me in and made me want to finish it in one sitting. While life did not make that possible, I did read it more quickly than anything I’ve read in a long time.
The biggest recommendation I can give to Sycamore Row is that it made me want to return to that small courtroom in Clanton one more time, just for nostalgia’s sake. I know it won’t disappoint.
I give the novel FIVE stars.