When University of Virginia law professor Ray Atlee arrives at his elderly father’s home in Clanton, Mississippi, in response to his father’s demand to appear to discuss his will, he finds his father dead, a brief will, and three million dollars stashed in a cupboard. Judge Ruben J. Atlee has held dominion over the small town and served as the guardian of its inhabitants’ secrets for over forty years. Alienated and angry younger brother Forrest affords Ray no help, leaving Ray to determine the source of the money under increasingly more dangerous circumstances.
A skilled tale spinner, John Grisham entertainingly evokes a sleepy, deep-southern town and its eccentric inhabitants in The Summons. The various town “types” contribute to the air of mystery, threat, and unexplained family and local secrets. Ray is at a loss as to where the money might have come from and what it might mean: blackmail? payoffs? something more sinister?
In a manner similar to his early novels The Firm (1991) and The Pelican Brief (1992), Grisham builds suspense by maintaining Ray’s sense of confusion about the source and meaning of the danger that surrounds him. The ways in which Ray attempts to solve the puzzle are logical and entertaining, such as gambling in casinos around the country to check to see if the money is counterfeit or otherwise marked. Local folks, including his life-long friend, Harry Rex, and his father’s long-time lover withhold or otherwise obscure the facts, leaving Ray to struggle on alone.
If a good yarn, a family with a “past,” shadowy, sinister figures, and a protagonist who won’t give up despite great odds are appealing, then Grisham’s The Summons will prove entertaining.