Book Reviews

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to Book Review List


The Summons by John Grisham




Click on title or picture to buy from




Unless you’re a die-hard John Grisham fan, there’s no reason to pick up his new novel, The Summons. While protagonist Ray Atlee has more dimensions to his personality than past Grisham characters, female characters remain underdeveloped, and all Ray’s relationships seem shallow. While the first hundred pages slowly get your attention and arouse some interest in the plot, that’s followed by 200 pages of dragging, detached narrative that you can pick up or leave off whenever you want. You need not fear losing sleep while trying to finish all or part of The Summons. The closing thirty or forty pages are decent Grisham, and you’ll be pleased to turn the past page, for more reasons than one.

Here’s an excerpt from a dinner scene between Ray Atlee and class action attorney Patton French:

“ ‘Here’s to Ryax,’ French said, reaching forward with his glass in a delayed toast. Ray touched his glass but said nothing. It was not a night for him to say much, and he knew it. He would just listen. His host would get drunk and say enough.
 ‘Ryax saved me, Ray,’ French said as he swirled his wine and admired it.
 ‘In what way?’
 ‘In every way. It saved my soul. I worship money, and Ryax has made me rich.’ A small sip, followed by the requisite smacking of the lips, a rolling of the eyes. ‘I missed the asbestos wave twenty years ago. Those shipyards over in Pascagoula used asbestos for years, and tens of thousands of men became ill. And I missed it. I was too busy suing doctors and insurance companies, and I was making good money but I just didn’t see the potential in mass torts. You ready for some oysters?’
French pushed a button; the steward popped in with two trays of raw oysters on the half shell. Ray mixed horseradish into the cocktail sauce and prepared for the feast. Patton was swirling wine and too busy talking.
 ‘Then came tobacco,’ he said sadly. ‘Many of the same lawyers, from right here. I thought they were crazy, hell, everybody did, but they sued the big tobacco companies in almost every state. I had the chance to jump into the pit with them, but I was too scared. It’s hard to admit that, Ray. I was just too damned scared to roll the dice.’
 ‘What did they want?’ Ray asked, then shoved the first oyster and saltine into his mouth.
 ‘A million bucks to help finance the litigation. And I had a million bucks at the time.’
 ‘How much was the settlement?’ Ray asked, chewing.
 ‘More than three hundred billion. The biggest financial and legal scam in history. The tobacco companies basically bought off the lawyers, who sold out. One huge bribe, and I missed it.’ He appeared to be ready to cry because he missed a bribe, but he rallied quickly with a long pull on the wine.
 ‘Good oysters,’ Ray said, with a mouthful.
 ‘Twenty-four hours ago, they were fifteen feet down.’ French poured more wine and settled over his platter.
 ‘What would have been the return on your one million dollars?’ Ray asked.
 ‘Two hundred to one.’
 ‘Two hundred million bucks?’
 ‘Yep. I was sick for a year, lots of lawyers around here were sick. We knew the players and we had chickened out.’”

That dialogue is Grisham at his best, which proves you have to really like this stuff to put up with page after page of such writing. So open up The Summons fully forewarned, or take a pass.

Steve Hopkins, February 20, 2002


ă 2002 Hopkins and Company, LLC