BEST-SELLING author John Grisham veers away from his trademark courtroom-dramas and explores the many faces of greed in his latest novel The Summons.

At 43, respected law professor at the University of Virginia Ray Atlee lives life like any middle-aged single man until he receives a letter from his father, Judge Reuben Atlee. The letter summons him and his brother, Forrest, to return to the Atlee mansion to discuss the details of their inheritance.

Ray reluctantly complies his father’s order and returns home. Unfortunately, when he arrives, his father is already dead. The situation takes a turn for the worse when Ray discovers his father’s secret, a dangerous one that changes his life drastically.

Using clear and simple words, Grisham narrates the story in a fluid and well-paced manner, revealing a very organized, no-nonsense storyteller. His prose is so clear-cut and direct that it’s sometimes difficult for readers to sympathize with his characters. Even Grisham seems to treat his characters like strangers. He describes them from a third person point-of-view and narrates their experiences with detachment.

Nonetheless, the characters in Grisham’s novel are likable enough. Readers can relate with them as if they are real-life people. At first, readers will get the impression that the characters are flat and lifeless, but as the story progresses, the characters shed their layers and reveal their hidden qualities. For example, Ray appears like your typical middle-aged American at the start of the story. But as you turn the pages on, your perception of him changes as you discover new things. His idiosyncrasies are subtly revealed by his actions towards the end of the story. The same goes for Forrest. He becomes more than your typical drug addict in the end.

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Among the characters, the dead Judge is probably the most complicated. Although Grisham’s description of him is very detailed, it’s still difficult to figure out his character. He is a constant presence in the story and it is only through flashbacks that readers get a clue of who the Judge is. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to really understand him. Throughout the story, the Judge’s character remains a puzzle. Why is he so cold to his sons when he’s such a charitable person? Questions like this pop in mind as you read the story. Sadly, most of the questions regarding the contradicting character of the Judge are left unanswered.

Grisham tackles the estranged relationship of the Atlees extensively through flashbacks. It is commendable how Grisham weaves the past and the present seamlessly. The story is organized well and the flashbacks do not appear awkward at all.

Unlike his previous novels The Pelican Brief, A Time To Kill, and The Firm, Grisham opts to lessen the suspense by narrating at a leisurely pace, evident in the rather uneventful experiences of Ray during his quest for the truth. Although there are irrelevant incidents in the story and exciting events happen only in the middle of the story, Grisham connects the introduction, suspense, climax, and the conclusion consistently with one another.

His introduction is written to immediately catch attention, which he barely sustains. Only the readers’ curiosity with what will happen next drives them to continue reading.

On the down side, it’s obvious that compared to his previous novels, this one falls short in many aspects, which would disappoint a Grisham fan. It lacks certain qualities that made his previous novels hit. The plot is too simple, the characters too common, and the setting too vague. He gives less importance to a well-described setting, resulting in a low suspense level. There isn’t enough atmosphere of suspense evoked in the story. It seems that Grisham wants his readers to be mere observers and not a part of the story.

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