Book review #5 :The Summons by John Grisham (2002)

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After having tried for the first time to read a John Grisham a few weeks ago, without really knowing his work, I decided to try it again despite my first reading being a disappointment. This time, I finished my book a little bit more satisfied. I’d give it a 6/10.

Here’s the story :

The main character, Ray Atlee, is a law professor with a good salary at the University of Virginia. He has a brother, Forrest, and a father, known to many as Judge Reuben V. Atlee. Ray is sent to his father’s house in Clanton, Mississippi, to discuss issues regarding the old man’s will and estate. When he finds his father dead in the study, Ray discovers a sum of over three million dollars in the house, money which is not part of Judge Atlee’s will. Ray immediately thinks the money is “dirty” because his father could not possibly have made so much money in his career.

Assuming that he is the only one who knows about the money, Ray decides to take it without making it officially part of the estate, and does not tell anyone about it. But later reality proves otherwise. Ray is being followed; someone else knows about the money. After his own investigations into the roots of the money and the identity of his shadow—including trips to casinos and shady meetings with prominent southern lawyers—he eventually discovers the true story behind the money.

It is true that The Summons is a novel that might appear as calm. The story focuses on one character, Ray, and everything is about the money and its mysterious origins. The other characters are almost non existent to be honest. Ray’s little brother, Forrest, remains an accessory to the story for the most part of the book, alternating between drugs and alcohol on the one hand and rehabs on the other ; the judge’s mistress appears only when the reader expects her, and for the stereotyped reason we expect – to get some money ; the people responsible for Ray’s troubles remain hidden until the denouement.

However, I found the story pretty constant. To be honest, I did not expect a dynamic thriller with gun shots, murders, spies… In fact the first pages of the book manage to present the situation to the reader pretty well. It is all about a calmer, steadier intrigue, which I understand can disappoint some readers.

In fact, what I thought to be a classic thriller turned out to be more of an enigma, a treasure hunt (in reverse, if we consider that Ray has the money !). We are side by side with the protagonist in his quest for the truth and we truly feel the dilemma he is faced with : keeping the money ? giving it to the policy ? sharing it with his brother while knowing it is going to cause his death ? And all this while Grisham stays true to his universe : justice and law.

The denouement, it is true, happens too quickly, too easily. I was not convinced, hence my 6/10. Again, I think Grisham used a shortcut to end his book, and this is why it seems to botched to me. The revelation is far-fetched in the last pages, as if everything had to come into place within the last 10 pages. While the plot has always been quite calm and steady throughout the book, with an intrigue based on anguish and waiting to know if Ray is going to get robbed, everything happens to quickly at the end because of a new character far too stereotyped in my opinion and who seems to know everything.

It is true, the reader and Ray end up having the explanations we were waiting for, but this happens mostly through a soliloquy of this new character, a part I found that did not match the rest of Grisham’s writing style. Nonetheless, I have to mention that the conclusion remains surprisingly consistent with the portrayal of character of the judge given at the very beginning of the book.

To conclude, The Summons was an okay book. Quick and easy to read, not too complicated or getting us lost into legal terms. It invites the reader in a surprising way into a story that starts as a thriller but ends up putting us in the shoes of Ray. It calls on our emotions, our affects, our humanity, which is an interesting point for what I first saw as a traditional thriller.

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