by Amy Coffin
The Summons marks John Grisham’s return to the wonderful world of law after a brief nostalgic stint in A Painted House. The summons in question is not a legal document. The honorable and terminally ill Judge Reuben Atlee asked his semi-estranged sons to return to their Mississippi childhood home to discuss the distribution of his estate.
Virginia law professor Ray Atlee arrives to the family estate at the requested hour, only to find his father has died in his sleep. Wandering around in shock, Ray stumbles on his father’s incredible secret. With a quick assessment of the situation, Ray decides it’s best not to tell his brother of Judge Atlee’s secret.
Though the funeral arrangements proceed as planned, Ray finds great difficulty in hiding the truth. To further complicate matters, someone knows what Ray is hiding and is willing to do harm to get it.
Ray’s search for answers scattered throughout the South is the subject of The Summons.
Judge Atlee’s closet skeleton, of which I am purposely being vague, makes for an intriguing plot. Reuben dies very early in the novel, so readers can only base their impression on Grisham’s generic description of a basic hard-nosed Southern judge. Most of the story focuses on Ray, who comes across as weak, uninteresting and flat. He simply drives around in a panic, never fully utilizing his legal talents to manage the task at hand.
Lately, Grisham has given his stories vague endings. This novel is no exception, with an unbelievably feeble conclusion that doesn’t measure up to the rest of the story. The Summons reads like an engaging legal thriller with its last chapter ripped out.
Unfortunately, the direction the story takes will leave readers feeling shortchanged. If the conclusion doesn’t, the hardback price certainly will.
Based on The Brethren and The Summons, I’ve noticed a disappointing commonality in Grisham’s works. I no longer anxiously await publication. Rather, I get in the line at the library; grateful I can read John Grisham’s work for free.