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Character Comebacks: John Grisham Brings Back Jake Brigance

Sycamore Row

In 1989, John Grisham was a lawyer/politician serving in the Mississippi House of Representatives, about to publish his debut novel: a legal thriller called A Time to Kill. Now, 24 years later, this bestselling author -- whose first print run numbers have the word “million” after them and Hollywood adaptations feature A-list actors --can choose to write about anything he darn well wants. So it's telling that Sycamore Row, due out October 22, takes us right back to that small Mississippi town where we first met Jake.

As part of our Character Comebacks series, we catch up with where Jake's been and what he's facing now.

How we knew him: A good husband, a doting father, and a protégé to local legal icon Lucien Wilbankes, 32-year-old Jake's an idealistic defense lawyer who's well-liked by all the locals in his small Mississippi town. He puts everything he loves on the line when he takes on a career-making (or -breaking) capital murder case so divisive it garners national attention.

A Time to Kill

Last scene: Downing a margarita with his mentor Lucien Wilbankes and banker Stan Atcavage before facing the horde of press outside his office. The verdict came back Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity thanks to one bold juror's persistence.

Where is he now: It's been three years since the notorious Carl Lee Haily trial. When a wealthy local man ends his life, leaving behind a recently altered radical will, Brigance is once again in the middle a controversial trial rife with racial tensions.

Why we love him: He's the well-meaning underdog. His sense of integrity, particularly when he and his family are vulnerable, make him all the more courageous. He's not perfect. He's not pure. But he's smart, and he's good. He makes the right decisions, especially when they're the most difficult.

According to Grisham: Jake was and is a very autobiographical character. When I wrote A Time to Kill, I was that lawyer working in that small town, with big dreams and almost no money. So, I know him better than any character since, and I’ve always wanted to watch him through another trial.

A sneak peek inside the new book:

They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind. A front was moving through and Seth was soaked when they found him, not that it mattered. Someone would point out that there was no mud on his shoes and no tracks below him, so therefore he was probably hanging and dead when the rain began. Why was that important? Ultimately, it was not.

The logistics of hanging oneself from a tree are not that simple. Evidently, Seth thought of everything. The rope was three-quarter-inch braided natural Manila, of some age and easily strong enough to handle Seth, who weighed 160 pounds a month earlier at the doctor's office. Later, an employee in one of Seth's factories would report that he had seen his boss cut the fifty-foot length from a spool a week before using it in such dramatic fashion. One end was tied firmly to a lower branch of the same tree and secured with a slapdash mix of knots and lashings. But, they held. The other end was looped over a higher branch, two feet in girth and exactly twenty-one feet from the ground. From there it fell about nine feet, culminating in a perfect hangman's knot, one that Seth had undoubtedly worked on for some time. The noose was straight from the textbook with thirteen coils designed to collapse the loop under pressure. A true hangman's knot snaps the neck, making death quicker and less painful, and apparently Seth had done his homework. Other than what was obvious, there was no sign of a struggle or suffering.


Order Sycamore Row now.

Return to the main story
Catch up with Danny Torrance
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