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
‘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
‘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
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