IT'S BEEN a while since I read a book by John Grisham, preferring his early work including The Firm, The Pelican Brief and A Time to Kill.
But, in Sycamore Row, his 26th novel and the sequel to A Time to Kill, the popular author returns to his startlingly good form and to attorney Jake Brigance.
In the previous book, made into a Hollywood blockbuster with Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson, Brigance defended an African-American father who avenged the rape and attempted murder of his daughter.
Brigance is still under threat from white supremacists who resented his win - a police patrol does regular drive-bys of his home - and, if he could land just one well-paying job, well, he'd move himself and his wife out of Clanton and upgrade his old red Saab.
That job materialises in the form of a handwritten will posted to him by a town businessman, Seth Hubbard, who commits suicide before cancer finally takes him.
His estimated fortune - $20 million, most of it left to his African-American housekeeper.
The question is will Brigance come up trumps against slick, big-town lawyers, fighting for the family, who assert they have the real will and that the businessman was out of his mind on painkilling drugs when he wrote a new one.
As with A Time to Kill, Grisham makes this about race or, as his mentor and a disbarred lawyer, Lucien Wilbanks, says: "Everything is about race in Mississippi. A simple black woman on the verge of inheriting what might be the largest fortune this county has ever seen, and the decision rests with a jury that's predominantly white".
Sycamore Row begins with an intriguing scenario and is packed with the sort of inside legal terminology and procedure that Grisham is best at, as well as some cracking courtroom scenes.
Grisham has sold more than 250 million books worldwide. He is a member of the board of directors of The Innocence Project, which campaigns to free unjustly convicted people on the basis of DNA evidence and most recently established the Rebuild The Coast Fund which raised $8.8 million for disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
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