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Book review: <i>The Summons</i> by John Grisham

the cover of the book

A disappointing and not overly enthusiastic delve into a relationship between a father and two sons... the struggles, sadness, selfishness, and attempts to do what's right.

The story

Ray Atlee receives a summons from his father by mail... the father who's shadow he's been avoiding for years. His father- a strict, dour judge, who raised his children in a loveless home for years- wants to talk about his will. Ray doesn't believe his father is that serious, but heads up there anyway. To find his father, dead, on the couch. And his wayward, drug addict brother, Forrest, typically late.

Ray reads the will - no surprises there, the estate is to be split in two - and then looks around the house. His stern, law-abiding father has a secret - one hundred thousand dollars hidden in shoeboxes in the cupboards. Ray is thrown into disarray. Where did his father get the money? And what on earth is Ray going to do with it?

Ray becomes paranoid and obsessive, a man on the run. He wants to know that the money is clean, before figuring out what to do about it. So he subtly asks around, tries to figure out if it was gambling, or worse, bribes. But somebody else knows about the money - somebody who is anonymous, dangerous, and willing to kill for it.

Can Ray, with the help of his old friend Harry Rex, find out where the money came from, sort out his father's estate, and try to protect his brother, and work out the right thing to do?But then, is it possible he's doing everything wrong?

The style

Grisham is famed for his legal thrillers - and he does okay at them. Although I'm not a huge fan of the genre, Grisham did a pretty good job with The Firm and A Time To Kill - they kept me reading the whole way through, and the twists and social commentary were pretty decent. The Summons is his return to the quasi-legal thriller genre having experimented with some other bits and pieces... but it's lacking vim, vigour, and spirit, if you will.

There's nothing wrong with the plot - it's fairly standard, a bit soul searching, a chance to delve into father son relationships - in other words, it has potential. But the writing style and the choices of what bits to emphasise and work on, really let the story down. Which is a shame, because with a little more cheap thriller action and a bit more content this story could have packed an engaging punch. While the characterisation of Ray was pretty decent, and Harry Rex was good stuff, the reader is left wanting more from Forrest, more from the town, more from the people, and generally, just more closure all round. The story lacked the studied dedication of A Time To Kill, or the racy thrills of The Firm. And while a little twist was attempted at the end, the reader is left ultimately unsatisfied by the whole, un-engaging little tale.

Who is this book for?

Unless you're a diehard Grisham fan, I'd not bother. It's not terrible, but it's a disappointment.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Honestly, try one of Grisham's others. He has written many, and I'm pretty sure most of them are more engaging than this one.

In short

Title: The Summons
Author: John Grisham
Publisher: Delta
ISBN: 0385339593
Year published: 2005
Pages: 304
Genre(s): Modern fiction
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