Law professor Ray Atlee comes from a legal family and a dysfunctional one. Ray's mother is long dead and his father, Judge Reuben Atlee, a powerful political figure in their small Mississippi hometown, is a cold, emotionally distant parent who has alienated both Ray and his ne'er-do-well brother, Forrest. Now the Judge is dying of cancer and Ray receives an imperious summons to return home, presumably to heal old wounds. Ray returns, but arrives too late. The old judge is dead, leaving behind some unfinished business that will threaten Ray's character, his sanity, even his life.
As a Grisham fan, I take no joy in reporting that his newest legal thriller disappointed me. Grisham has always had the ability to involve the reader emotionally, but there's just nobody worthy of rooting for in The Summons. I searched all 341 double-spaced pages of this pricey ($27.95) hardback for a noble soul willing to sacrifice for another person or a cause. There were none.
My only past objections to Grisham's work have been a slight tendency to preach and his habit of getting his characters so hopelessly in trouble that the only solution is death or exile. In The Summons, however, I would liked to have seen a flash of the old Grisham idealism, and exiling or knocking off Ray Atlee might have been more merciful than the frustrating, faux-ironic conclusion of this novel.
Grisham's last two books were of different genres and this latest thriller is tepidly written. From these clues, I deduce that his heart isn't in the law any more. In the future, let's hope he is given more opportunity to follow his passion instead of being required to go through the motions.
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