Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Summons

The Summons
© 2002 John Grisham
373 pages


When Professor Ray Atlee returned to his family home in Clanton, Mississippi to discuss his ailing father's will, he found two surprises waiting for him. His father, an elderly judge who even in retirement remained a pillar of the community, lay dead in his study -- only two hours parted from life. The judge left dozens of boxes of legal files, enough Confederate memorabilia  to stock a museum, and over three million dollars stashed away in boxes. The untimely death and the discovery of the money are staggering to the professor, who knows his father to be both grossly underpaid and as great a philanthropist as any man:  the judge gave money to anyone who needed it, so how did he manage to acquire such an immense fortune? And why isn't that fortune in the bank -- why is it hidden in these boxes away from public view?

His father's latest will named Ray the executor of the estate, but he's not willing to reveal the millions to the world, for the cash stinks of some kind of impropriety. Where could it have come from?  He begins to discreetly investigate the matter, hoping to find that his father earned this fortune legitimately through trading on the stock market or even gambling in casinos -- but the money remains inexplicable. No one else seems to know anything about the money, but Ray soon begins receiving threatening mail and phone calls and his home is ransacked. Someone else wants the money -- and they want it enough to kill.

The Summons is more of a mystery thriller than a legal thriller, although the law is an irreplaceable element of the plot. Set partially in Grisham's Ford County and partially in Charlottesville, North Carolina,  the book offers character drama, an interesting mystery -- how does an honest  judge get three million dollars? -- and a little moralizing on the effect of large amounts of cash on human behavior: Ray has no intention of reporting to the IRS, and not just because he's concerned for his father's reputation. The book is also a teaser of sorts for Grisham's The King of Torts, one of my favorites. I enjoyed re-reading The Summons: like The Brethren, it's an interesting diversion from Grisham's usual legal fare, and the setting is an old favorite.

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