Friday, July 18, 2014

The Summons

I just finished reading the 2002 novel The Summons by John Grisham. This novel is set mainly in Ford County, MS, as were his works A Time to Kill and Ford County. The story begins when Ray Atlee, a University of Virginia law professor, gets a formal summons from his dying father in Ford County, Judge Rueben Atlee. Ray assumes that this will be a meeting to review his father's estate and his last wishes. The Judge served more than 30 years on the bench until he was voted out of office. He then hid away from the rest of the world, bitter that he was cast out of his seat of power.

Ray and his father have a very strained relationship. As a result he was dreading this unexpected trip back home. To make matters more uncomfortable for Ray, he will have to see his brother Forrest, the black sheep of the family, a con artist who has struggled with every possible addiction his whole life. When Ray arrives at his father's house at the appointed time, he finds him dead in his study, and Forrest is nowhere to be found. Ray finds a new version of his father's will sitting out on his desk, claiming only $6,000 in the bank and the house as his only assets. Yet Ray discovers boxes and boxes of hundred dollar bills in the couch behind where his father lies, an unaccountable sum of 3 million dollars. Ray decides to hide the money until he can figure out what to do with it. The Judge may have been many things including hard-nosed, domineering, and abrasive, but he was definitely not dirty. Where could this money have come from?

The story follows Ray as he quickly becomes a target of someone who knows about the money and wants Ray to turn it over. Ray makes a list of possible suspects and one by one he crosses them off his list. Finally, as he is going through his father's files, he comes to figure out the source of the money. But when the only person who could have known about the money is killed, Ray still finds that he is being followed and his life threatened. As the story ends, Ray has come to better understand what he values and what he is willing to fight for in his life. He also better understands who he can trust. This is definitely a professional, crisp effort from start to finish, written by an author who knows how to develop settings, to write with even pacing, to build suspense, and to craft true to life characters who actually deliver believable dialog.