Sycamore Row by John Grisham

I would like to read Sycamore Row by John Grisham. It is the sequel to A Time to Kill and The title refers to a row of sycamore trees in the countryside near the fictional town of Clanton, in fictional Ford County, Mississippi. The story begins three years after the sensational events in the trial of Carl Lee Hailey (A Time to Kill). An employee of the rich recluse Seth Hubbard is asked to meet his boss but discovers he has hanged himself from the tree because his terminal lung cancer had become too painful. Accompanying the body are very specific funeral and burial instructions.

Jake Brigance, Carl Lee’s former attorney receives a letter sent by Hubbard just before he kills himself, containing a new holographic will that renounces a will he filed the year before in which he leaves all his assets to his daughter and son as well as his grandchildren. In this new will, Hubbard stipulates that his children will receive nothing. Instead, five percent will be given to the local church and another five percent will be left to his long-disappeared brother, Ancil Hubbard. The remaining ninety percent is to be given to his black housekeeper Letitia “Lettie” Lang. Further instructions stipulate that the will must not be filed for probate until after Seth’s funeral ensuring that his greedy children, who rarely visited him during his bout with cancer, will ultimately be left with nothing.

Seth chose Jake because of his track record and Soon, Jake finds out that Seth Hubbard had earned more than $20 million in a lumber mill business without telling anyone in the town of Clanton. Predictably Seth Hubbard’s children contest their father’s new holographic will by claiming he was not capable when filing it, igniting a hotly contested court battle with many twists and turns. Jake must prevent the trial from becoming racially motivated. Jake hopes the jury might rule for Lettie on the case’s own merits, i.e. that Seth Hubbard made his money himself and had the right to leave it to whoever he wanted and that he knew what he was doing when changing his will.

However a rabble-rousing black lawyer from Memphis, who goes to Clanton, involves himself in the case and compromises it with his provocative acts. Then, Lettie’s husband, with whom she is on bad terms, kills two teens while driving drunk. As The trial progresses Jake builds his case, and Lettie’s own testimony makes a good impression on the jury and Jake manages to discredit the testimonies of Seth Hubbard’s children that they were close during his illness. However, the opposing lawyer produces a surprise witness, whose testimony suggests Lettie coerced Seth into leaving the money then another surprise witness, a former black female employee with whom Seth Hubbard had sexual relations comes forward, implying that Lettie had also slept with Hubbard.

Then a sensational deposition is given by Hubbard’s long-lost brother Ancil. Ancil, who had a very traumatic childhood, had left Ford County and joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17, vowing never to return who has led an adventurous and often criminal life around the world under a variety of assumed names, until finally being located as a bartender in Juno, Alaska. The disbarred Lucien, Jake’s friend and ex-partner who is an alcoholic goes to Alaska and manages to obtain Ancil’s recorded testimony. Ancil Hubbard explains why Seth Hubbard left the money to his housekeeper and the significance of the sycamore tree from which Mr. Hubbard hanged himself.

They learn that In the 1920s, Lettie’s grandfather Sylvester, whom she never knew, owned a considerable plot of land causing much resentment in his violent and aggressive neighbor, Cleon Hubbard, who laid a claim to Sylvester’s land. However, Sylvester had an unassailable title to the land, which was registered by the family during the Reconstruction period when federal troops, present in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. Having failed in court, Cleon Hubbard resorts to alternative methods. Sylvester is falsely accused of a crime and a lynch mob hanged him from a sycamore tree. This Horrified His sons Ancil and Seth, who did not share their father’s prejudice. Then, Cleon Hubbard intimidates Esther, Lettie’s grandmother, and forces her to sign away the family’s ownership for a pittance, with a promise that she could continue residing on the property. However, the promise is promptly broken, and Cleon and the sheriff then expel the entire extended family and destroy the small black community which had been known as “Sycamore Row.” With Esther, only just escaping.

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