Sycamore Row

Sycamore Row

by John Grisham


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Don’t miss an original essay by John Grisham in the back of the book.

John Grisham takes you back to where it all began. One of the most popular novels of our time, A Time to Kill established John Grisham as the master of the legal thriller. Now we return to Ford County as Jake Brigance finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial that exposes a tortured history of racial tension.
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?

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.
Praise for Sycamore Row
“Powerful . . . immensely readable . . . the best of his books.”The Washington Post
“Welcome back, Jake. . . . [Brigance] is one of the most fully developed and engaging characters in all of Grisham’s novels.”USA Today
“One of [Grisham’s] finest . . . Sycamore Row is a true literary event.”—The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553393613
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 53,574
Product dimensions: 5.24(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

John Grisham is the author of a collection of stories, a work of nonfiction, three sports novels, four kids’ books, and many legal thrillers. His work has been translated into forty-two languages. He lives near Charlottesville, Virginia.


Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia

Date of Birth:

February 8, 1955

Place of Birth:

Jonesboro, Arkansas


B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981

Read an Excerpt


They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind. A front was moving through and Seth was soaked when they found him, not that it mattered. Someone would point out that there was no mud on his shoes and no tracks below him, so therefore he was probably hanging and dead when the rain began. Why was that important? Ultimately, it was not.

The logistics of hanging oneself from a tree are not that simple. Evidently, Seth thought of everything. The rope was three-quarter-inch braided natural Manila, of some age and easily strong enough to handle Seth, who weighed 160 pounds a month earlier at the doctor's office. Later, an employee in one of Seth's factories would report that he had seen his boss cut the fifty-foot length from a spool a week before using it in such dramatic fashion. One end was tied firmly to a lower branch of the same tree and secured with a slapdash mix of knots and lashings. But, they held. The other end was looped over a higher branch, two feet in girth and exactly twenty-one feet from the ground. From there it fell about nine feet, culminating in a perfect hangman's knot, one that Seth had undoubtedly worked on for some time. The noose was straight from the textbook with thirteen coils designed to collapse the loop under pressure. A true hangman's knot snaps the neck, making death quicker and less painful, and apparently Seth had done his homework. Other than what was obvious, there was no sign of a struggle or suffering.

A six-foot stepladder had been kicked aside and was lying benignly nearby. Seth had picked his tree, flung his rope, tied it off, climbed the ladder, adjusted the noose, and, when everything was just right, kicked the ladder and fell. His hands were free and dangling near his pockets.

Had there been an instant of doubt, of second-guessing? When his feet left the safety of the ladder, but with his hands still free, had Seth instinctively grabbed the rope above his head and fought desperately until he surrendered? No one would ever know, but it looked doubtful. Later evidence would reveal that Seth had been a man on a mission.

For the occasion, he had selected his finest suit, a thick wool blend, dark gray and usually reserved for funerals in cooler weather. He owned only three. A proper hanging has the effect of stretching the body, so Seth's trouser cuffs stopped at his ankles and his jacket stopped at his waist. His black wing tips were polished and spotless. His blue necktie was perfectly knotted. His white shirt, though, was stained with blood that had oozed from under the rope. Within hours, it would be known that Seth Hubbard had attended the 11:00 a.m. worship service at a nearby church. He had spoken to acquaintances, joked with a deacon, placed an offering in the plate, and seemed in reasonably good spirits. Most folks knew Seth was battling lung cancer, though virtually no one knew the doctors had given him a short time to live. Seth was on several prayer lists at the church. However, he carried the stigma of two divorces and would always be tainted as a true Christian.

His suicide would not help matters.

The tree was an ancient sycamore Seth and his family had owned for many years. The land around it was thick with hardwoods, valuable timber Seth had mortgaged repeatedly and parlayed into wealth. His father had acquired the land by dubious means back in the 1930s. Both of Seth's ex-wives had tried valiantly to take the land in the divorce wars, but he held on. They got virtually everything else.

First on the scene was Calvin Boggs, a handyman and farm laborer Seth had employed for several years. Early Sunday morning, Calvin had received a call from his boss. "Meet me at the bridge at 2:00 p.m.," Seth said. He didn't explain anything and Calvin was not one to ask questions. If Mr. Hubbard said to meet him somewhere at a certain time, then he would be there. At the last minute, Calvin's ten-year-old boy begged to tag along, and, against his instincts, Calvin said yes. They followed a gravel road that zigzagged for miles through the Hubbard property. As Calvin drove, he was certainly curious about the meeting. He could not remember another occasion when he met his boss anywhere on a Sunday afternoon. He knew his boss was ill and there were rumors he was dying, but, like everything else, Mr. Hubbard kept it quiet.

The bridge was nothing more than a wooden platform spanning a nameless, narrow creek choked with kudzu and crawling with cottonmouths. For months, Mr. Hubbard had been planning to replace it with a large concrete culvert, but his bad health had sidetracked him. It was near a clearing where two dilapidated shacks rotted in the brush and overgrowth and offered the only hint that there was once a small settlement there.

Parked near the bridge was Mr. Hubbard's late-model Cadillac, its driver's door open, along with the trunk. Calvin rolled to a stop behind the car and stared at the open trunk and door and felt the first hint that something might be out of place. The rain was steady now and the wind had picked up, and there was no good reason for Mr. Hubbard to leave his door and trunk open. Calvin told his boy to stay in the truck, then slowly walked around the car without touching it. There was no sign of his boss. Calvin took a deep breath, wiped moisture from his face, and looked at the landscape. Beyond the clearing, maybe a hundred yards away, he saw a body hanging from a tree. He returned to his truck, again told the boy to stay inside and keep the doors locked, but it was too late. The boy was staring at the sycamore in the distance.

"Stay here now," Calvin said sternly. "And don't get out of the truck."

"Yes sir."

Calvin began walking. He took his time as his boots slipped in the mud and his mind tried to stay calm. What was the hurry? The closer he got the clearer things became. The man in the dark suit at the end of the rope was quite dead. Calvin finally recognized him, and he saw the stepladder, and he quickly put the scene and the events in order. Touching nothing, he backed away and returned to his truck.

It was October of 1988, and car phones had finally arrived in rural Mississippi. At Mr. Hubbard's insistence, Calvin had one installed in his truck. He called the Ford County sheriff's office, gave a brief report, and began waiting. Warmed by the heater and soothed by Merle Haggard on the radio, Calvin gazed through the windshield, ignored the boy, tapped his fingers along with the wipers, and realized he was crying. The boy was afraid to speak.



When A Time To Kill was published in 1989 it sold a few copies around Memphis, Jackson, and a couple of other hot spots in Mississippi, but it was unnoticed by the rest of the world. As an eager rookie, I was dreaming of royalties, foreign rights, a movie deal, and perhaps a larger publishing contract. None of these materialized, not in 1989 anyway. The book was ignored; my tiny publisher printed 5000 copies and we couldn't give them away. The Memphis newspaper trashed it and the Jackson paper refused to review it.

But it proved resilient. My second, third, and fourth books followed quickly, along with their movie adaptations, and somewhere in that frenzy A Time To Kill was discovered. One day in the summer of 1994 I caught myself gawking at the New York Times bestseller list ? all four books were at the top, with A Time To Kill number one in mass market. By then, it had sold five million copies.

And the book has remained popular. Its own movie version was released in 1996, did well at the box office, and in all likelihood it's somewhere on cable tonight. Today, after thirty books, A Time To Kill is still the bestselling book I've written. And it's by far the favorite, at least according to those who get close enough to offer an opinion. Countless times I've heard, "Hey, I like your books, but the first one is the best."

More often than not, this is followed up with a quick, "How about a sequel? Another story about Jake and Lucien and Harry Rex?" To which I usually respond, "I'm waiting on a story."

And so I've waited. For over twenty years I've thought about Jake Brigance and the characters in his world, and the aftermath of the Hailey trial. I've wondered how Jake was doing in Clanton, a deeply divided town, with the Klan hot on his tail, his home destroyed by a firebomb, his friends carrying guns to protect him. How were Jake and Carla coping as they picked up the pieces and started over? Did the Hailey trial make him a star, a lawyer in demand? Or was he still struggling to pay the rent?

I've gone back briefly to Ford County in other books, but never one involving Jake. Harry Rex Vonner, one of my favorites, has made a few cameos here and there, but nothing of substance. Lucien Wilbanks has appeared occasionally, but only in passing.

When I finished my second book, The Firm, my plan was to return to Clanton for another story. Then, I would write another legal thriller. Back and forth, back and forth, I would carve out my turf on the literary landscape with two kinds of books ? the legal thrillers, and the Ford County novels. Surely, somewhere in there I could find my niche and sell some books. The sudden success of The Firm, though, changed things dramatically, and I felt the urgency to pursue the legal thrillers. And, after twenty of them, I still enjoying piecing together the plots and pursuing the issues.

But Jake has never been far from my creative thoughts. Two years ago, a novel began to take shape. Unlike A Time To Kill, a story inspired by real events, this one has no basis in truth. Now that Sycamore Row is finished, I'm not sure where the idea came from, at least not in fact. I suppose the inspiration comes from the characters because, in writing it, I often felt as though I was having dinner with old friends. It was a delight to catch up with them, to hear their voices again, and to remember how they were thirty years ago. I hope they haven't changed much.

My wife, Renee, wasn't too keen on a sequel and her reason was simple: When I began writing A Time To Kill in 1984, I was the hungry young lawyer looking for the big case. I was struggling at the office and wondering where the clients were. We were living the life of Jake and Carla in a small town in Mississippi, just getting by and trying to survive. Happy, ambitious, but not sure the law was our ticket to success. That was a long time ago, and Renee worried it would be difficult to recapture the authenticity of that writer's voice. So much has changed. She was also worried about the possibility of a cool reception to a sequel. "They rarely work, you know?" she said more than once. "Fine," I said, "We just won't call it a sequel."

And so we're not. Renee read the first chapters of Sycamore Row and was soon on board. The story came together nicely and writing it became a pleasure. As always, it took about six months, not a long time in the writing business, but long enough. The last six weeks are usually tedious and tiring, as the deadline looms and I grow a little tired of my characters. Not so with Sycamore Row. Almost daily, I was tempted to, as we say, "chase a rabbit," or, in other words, pursue some long-winded and colorful tale involving Harry Rex or Lucien or another character. I could have written a thousand pages, but at some point the story had to end.

So I saved some material for the next time out.

John Grisham

Charlottesville, VA

October 15, 2013

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Sycamore Row 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1398 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading Sycamore Row and could not put it down!  Wonderfully written, you feel as though you are right there with Jake Brigance throughout the book.  It has a lot of twists and turns and tells it like it was and is in the deep South.  I can't wait until his next book comes out! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was taking a plane trip from San Diego airport to Seattle. Didn't have a book to read so purchased the first novel of John Grisham....started it as soon as we were in the air.....reached my destination and didn't want to put the book down....have been a fan of Grisham since....He is just the best. My entire family of myself,my husband and 5 children all feel the same way. Hard to put his books down.. Thank you John Grisham for all your wonderful stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read every book Grisham has written. He is of course a very accomplished author. This is a tremendous story, and it was very well crafted. In many ways, it might have been the very best, as it did literally bring a tear yo my eye. Read this book. 
PattonJ More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. If you enjoy a great mystery then this is the book for you. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the formula Grisham used in his best novels. It's a page turner that grabs you on the first page and doesn't let go until the last sentence on the last page. So many twists and turns, plots and sub-plots, surprises and disappointments. I enjoyed it do much, I hated to see it end.
ATLNoel More than 1 year ago
Grisham has done it again!  I've read all of his legal thrillers, and this is one of his best. I REALLY hope they consider making this a film, too.   I could not read the book fast enough.  Keep them coming!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is classic Grisham. Some of his books are a bit humorous. Some are very serious. All are great stories told by a true story-teller. This one, well, I'm not far enough into it to tell you whether it's humorous or serious but enough to say it's in his tradition of great stories!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can already visualize this book made into a movie. The characters from "A Time To Kill" again sharing an interesting tale. My only regret is that this book was published too late to have been my companion as I sat on the beach in Destin. Good page turners seem all to rare and I've come to rely on the consistency of this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such great plots, twists, and turns. You had no idea which way to lean from one page to the next. So many incredible surprises that put knots in my stomach. Grisham is a masterful storyteller and writer. Hated to see the story come to an end. MJM
XXXOOOBookwormOOOXXX More than 1 year ago
This was hands-down the best book I've read in many years. Grisham knows how to spin a yarn, but this one took the cake! From the opening pages, it captures the imagination: What was going on with Seth Hubbard? Totally dysfunctional family or just a sick, bitter old man on a mission? I could not lay this book down and was deliciously surprised at so many twists and turns. Every passage, every character reagent to the incredible outcome, so pay attention! Thought I had this one figured out, only to have Mr. Gresham throw me a delightful curve during the last few pages. I just don't think I will EVER forget this book. I loved reading about Jake and Harry Rex and how they continued on after the murder trial. I would love to read a follow up to Sycamore Row too. Maybe a book where Jake has finally "arrived" much like the career path that Grisham's life took. Good work Mr Grisham!! As always this book was quite entertaining. "Sycamore Row" brings the some of the main characters from "A Time to Kill" back to life in a story that kept me turning pages. As always with Grisham, I felt like I knew the characters personally. Here's hoping for more Jake Brigance novels and a Hollywood adaptation of "Sycamore Row".  Absolutely loved the book.    
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read all of Grisham's books. Until now, "A Time to Kill" was my favorite even though I haven't found one I didn't like. I just finished this book and it is his best. After reading all of them, you know there is going to be a twist at the end; but the finishing few pages of 'Sycamore Row" are without equal. Kudos Mr. Grisham!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not his best, but a good read. Somewhat predictable and occasionally drawn out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little drawn out. A time to kill was much better,and more plausible. I enjoy John Grisholm books,this was a little disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome! Another hit!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very great book one of the best grishom books to me
FP-Ballard More than 1 year ago
Good verses bad. Right versus wrong. Justice versus injustice. All these apply to Sycamore Row. I enjoyed the book. I knew I would. The setting in the story stick with you. The characters John was writing about grip you. You feel the emotion in small story after small story within this novel. There's a terrific build up to a twist and turn ending. If you enjoy Grisham's novels, then this is a must read for you.
coreyblissford More than 1 year ago
A fantastic book. One of Grisham's best.
Tough_critique More than 1 year ago
I have read more than half. I am not sure if I should waste time reading more. How many days does it take for John Grisham to write his novels, I wonder. It is simple, everything is as expected and to satisfy the reader. After reading a couple of award winner books back to back, I found this novel extremely simple. Disappointing. (It could be useful for people who are in litigation for inheritance..)
readzalot2 More than 1 year ago
After reading about Sycamore Row, I purchased A Time To Kill on my Nook to re-read. I fell in love with the characters all over again, and was reminded how I once loved John Grisham's writing. I then purchased Sycamore Row, also on my Nook, and was so excited about starting the story. I was sorely disappointed. The characters fell short...I found I didn't really care about them. I struggled to even finish the novel, finding myself nodding off when just did not hold my interest.
Mysticbooks More than 1 year ago
I give Sycamore Row 5 stars.
Kaayres More than 1 year ago
I must say I was very excited to get this book because A Time To Kill is not only my favorite Grisham but one of my favorite books ever. However, with 85 pages to go in the book I kept waiting for it to get better. The sub-plot with the house was boring and tedious, there were so many ancillary characters that I just couldn't care about them. I would say it is worth a read, in paperback, don't spend the money on hardcover or Nook. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
started off great but fast became every slow and borring, Very predictable and dissapoiting.
JHinNH More than 1 year ago
Great read, but it falls apart a bit at the end. There are some gaping holes in the conclusions -- too many unexplained coincidences where Grisham is usually so tight.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We all still love Jake Brigance. The character is the only saving grace for this book. Very predictable, nothing shocking. Court room scenes were also ok. All in all a decent read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay,I read, John Grisham's, Theodore Boone series and i loved it. So I know when I read this book I will love it too. His books just seem to captivate you from the first word. I used to never be interested in books like that, that is until I picked up a book by John Grisham. He is like the only author who seems to really understand what he is writing about. I have loved his work from the very beginning. When people tell me they have never read any of his books, I literally freak out. I am his #1 fan!