Once Judge Atlee was a powerful figure in Clanton, Mississippi--a pillar of the community who towered over local law and politics for forty years. Now the judge is a shadow of his former self, a sick, lonely old man who has withdrawn to his sprawling ancestral home. Knowing the end is near, Judge Atlee has issued a summons for his two sons to return to Clanton to discuss his estate. Ray Atlee is the eldest, a Virginia law professor, newly single and still enduring the aftershocks of a surprise divorce. Forrest is Ray’s younger brother, who redefines the notion of a family’s black sheep.
The summons is typed by the judge himself, on his handsome old stationery, and gives the date and time for Ray and Forrest to appear in his study. Ray reluctantly heads south to his hometown, to the place where he grew up and now prefers to avoid. But the family meeting does not take place. The judge dies too soon, and in doing so leaves behind a shocking secret known only to Ray.
And perhaps someone else.
Law professor Ray Atlee and his prodigal brother, Forrest, are summoned home to Clanton, Mississippi, by their ailing father to discuss his will. But when Ray arrives the judge is already dead, and the one-page document dividing his meager estate between the two sons seems crystal clear. What it doesn't mention, however, is the small fortune in cash Ray discovers hidden in the old man's house--$3 million he can't account for and doesn't mention to brother Forrest, either.
Ray's efforts to keep his find a secret, figure out where it came from, and hide it from a nameless extortioner, who seems to know more about it than he does, culminate in a denouement with an almost biblical twist. It's a slender plot to hang a thriller on, and in truth it's not John Grisham's best in terms of pacing, dramatic tension, and interesting characters (except for Harry Rex, a country lawyer who was the judge's closest friend and in many ways is the father Ray wishes he'd had. He's so vivid he jumps off the page). But Grisham's legions of fans are likely to enjoy The Summons even if it lacks the power of some of his classic earlier books, like The Firm, The Brethren, and The Testament. --Jane Adams