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The Summons

The Summons

3.5 257
by John Grisham

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Ray Atlee is a professor of law at the University of Virginia. He's forty-three, newly single, and still enduring the aftershocks of a surprise divorce. He has a younger brother, Forrest, who redefines the notion of a family's black sheep.
And he has a father, a very sick old man who lives alone in the ancestral home in Clanton, Mississippi. He is


Ray Atlee is a professor of law at the University of Virginia. He's forty-three, newly single, and still enduring the aftershocks of a surprise divorce. He has a younger brother, Forrest, who redefines the notion of a family's black sheep.
And he has a father, a very sick old man who lives alone in the ancestral home in Clanton, Mississippi. He is known to all as Judge Atlee, a beloved and powerful official who has towered over local law and politics for forty years. No longer on the bench, the Judge has withdrawn to the Atlee mansion and become a recluse.
With the end in sight, Judge Atlee issues a summons for both sons to return home to Clanton, to discuss the details of his estate. It 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, which he prefers now 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.

Author Biography: JOHN GRISHAM is the author of Skipping Christmas, A Painted House, The Brethren, The Testament, The Street Lawyer, The Partner, The Runaway Jury, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, The Client, The Pelican Brief, The Firm, and A Time to Kill.

Editorial Reviews

For the first time since A Time to Kill, John Grisham returns to Ford County, Mississippi, a place rich in colorful characters and dark family secrets.... With The Summons, the megabestselling author also gets back to the genre that made him famous -- the hard-core legal thriller -- after his successful forays into softer storytelling, A Painted House and Skipping Christmas.
Publishers Weekly
Beck offers a fine performance in this no-frills production of Grisham's latest, despite its lack of overall narrative zip. University of Virginia law professor Ray Atlee stumbles upon more than $3 million in cash in the rural Mississippi house of his dead father, then tries to discover the source of the money and elude an increasingly persistent and menacing extortionist. Beck is a dynamic reader and excels at tackling the challenge of capturing the characters' Southern twang in the story's dialogue. Ray's voice is refined and authoritative, while that of his black sheep brother, Forrest, carries a slight crack that befits a person lacking in confidence and maturity. Family friend and local lawyer Harry Rex stands out the most, and Beck also deftly portrays a smarmy, boozing Delta attorney who calls himself the "King of the Torts." But even with these intriguing, well-rounded characters and a nice evocation of the legal system's more unsavory machinations, the plot won't move listeners to the edge of their seats. Beck, however, does well with what he has, which is a decently written but rather sluggish tale of suspense with a quirky cast and one good twist at the end. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, Feb. 4). (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
In this work the person faced with unexpected temptation is a law professor, Ray Atlee. (Tort lawyers are thrashed, but it's merely a warm-up for what's done to them in The King of Torts.) Summoned by his dying father, Atlee discovers boxes of cash at the old man's house totaling more than $3 million. Mysterious people are soon after Atlee and the money, and the thrills begin. The surprise ending will once again make you appreciate that how you see yourself and your actions may not necessarily be the way others do. (21 Jul 2003)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
In his latest, Grisham returns to Ford County, MS, the setting of A Time To Kill. No plot details, but the promotion proclaims, "The court is back in session." Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
The Summons ranks as my absolute favorite in many years...[with] an ending too delicious and morally instructive to give away.”—USA Today

“A pleasure to read...a good yarn.”—The Washington Post

Product Details

Ulverscroft Large Print Books, Ltd.
Publication date:
Charnwood Large Print Series
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.84(h) x (d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

It came by mail, regular postage, the old-fashioned way since the Judge was almost eighty and distrusted modern devices. Forget e-mail and even faxes. He didn't use an answering machine and had never been fond of the telephone. He pecked out his letters with both index fingers, one feeble key at a time, hunched over his old Underwood manual on a rolltop desk under the portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Judge's grandfather had fought with Forrest at Shiloh and throughout the Deep South, and to him no figure in history was more revered. For thirty-two years, the Judge had quietly refused to hold court on July 13, Forrest's birthday.

It came with another letter, a magazine, and two invoices, and was routinely placed in the law school mailbox of Professor Ray Atlee. He recognized it immediately since such envelopes had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. It was from his father, a man he too called the Judge.

Professor Atlee studied the envelope, uncertain whether he should open it right there or wait a moment. Good news or bad, he never knew with the Judge, though the old man was dying and good news had been rare. It was thin and appeared to contain only one sheet of paper; nothing unusual about that. The Judge was frugal with the written word, though he'd once been known for his windy lectures from the bench.

It was a business letter, that much was certain. The Judge was not one for small talk, hated gossip and idle chitchat, whether written or spoken. Ice tea with him on the porch would be a refighting of the Civil War, probably at Shiloh, where he would once again lay all blame for the Confederate defeat at the shiny,untouched boots of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, a man he would hate even in heaven, if by chance they met there.

He'd be dead soon. Seventy-nine years old with cancer in his stomach. He was overweight, a diabetic, a heavy pipe smoker, had a bad heart that had survived three attacks, and a host of lesser ailments that had tormented him for twenty years and were now finally closing in for the kill. The pain was constant. During their last phone call three weeks earlier, a call initiated by Ray because the Judge thought long distance was a rip-off, the old man sounded weak and strained. They had talked for less than two minutes.

The return address was gold-embossed: Chancellor Reuben V. Atlee, 25th Chancery District, Ford County Courthouse, Clanton, Mississippi. Ray slid the envelope into the magazine and began walking. Judge Atlee no longer held the office of chancellor. The voters had retired him nine years earlier, a bitter defeat from which he would never recover. Thirty-two years of diligent service to his people, and they tossed him out in favor of a younger man with radio and television ads. The Judge had refused to campaign. He claimed he had too much work to do, and, more important, the people knew him well and if they wanted to reelect him then they would do so. His strategy had seemed arrogant to many. He carried Ford County but got shellacked in the other five.

It took three years to get him out of the courthouse. His office on the second floor had survived a fire and had missed two renovations. The Judge had not allowed them to touch it with paint or hammers. When the county supervisors finally convinced him that he had to leave or be evicted, he boxed up three decades' worth of useless files and notes and dusty old books and took them home and stacked them in his study. When the study was full, he lined them down the hallways into the dining room and even the foyer.

Ray nodded to a student who was seated in the hall. Outside his office, he spoke to a colleague. Inside, he locked the door behind him and placed the mail in the center of his desk. He took off his jacket, hung it on the back of the door, stepped over a stack of thick law books he'd been stepping over for half a year, and then to himself uttered his daily vow to organize the place.

The room was twelve by fifteen, with a small desk and a small sofa, both covered with enough work to make Ray seem like a very busy man. He was not. For the spring semester he was teaching one section of antitrust. And he was supposed to be writing a book, another drab, tedious volume on monopolies that would be read by no one but would add handsomely to his pedigree. He had tenure, but like all serious professors he was ruled by the "publish or perish" dictum of academic life.

He sat at his desk and shoved papers out of the way.

The envelope was addressed to Professor N. Ray Atlee, University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville, Virginia. The e's and o's were smudged together. A new ribbon had been needed for a decade. The Judge didn't believe in zip codes either.

The N was for Nathan, after the general, but few people knew it. One of their uglier fights had been over the son's decision to drop Nathan altogether and plow through life simply as Ray.

The Judge's letters were always sent to the law school, never to his son's apartment in downtown Charlottesville. The Judge liked titles and important addresses, and he wanted folks in Clanton, even the postal workers, to know that his son was a professor of law. It was unnecessary. Ray had been teaching (and writing) for thirteen years, and those who mattered in Ford County knew it.

He opened the envelope and unfolded a single sheet of paper. It too was grandly embossed with the Judge's name and former title and address, again minus the zip code. The old man probably had an unlimited supply of the stationery.

It was addressed to both Ray and his younger brother, Forrest, the only two offspring of a bad marriage that had ended in 1969 with the death of their mother. As always, the message was brief:

Please make arrangements to appear in my study on Sunday, May 7, at 5 p.m., to discuss the administration of my estate. Sincerely, Reuben V. Atlee.

The distinctive signature had shrunk and looked unsteady. For years it had been emblazoned across orders and decrees that had changed countless lives. Decrees of divorce, child custody, termination of parental rights, adoptions. Orders settling will contests, election contests, land disputes, annexation fights. The Judge's autograph had been authoritative and well known; now it was the vaguely familiar scrawl of a very sick old man.

Sick or not, though, Ray knew that he would be present in his father's study at the appointed time. He had just been summoned, and as irritating as it was, he had no doubt that he and his brother would drag themselves before His Honor for one more lecture. It was typical of the Judge to pick a day that was convenient for him without consulting anybody else.

It was the nature of the Judge, and perhaps most judges for that matter, to set dates for hearings and deadlines with little regard for the convenience of others. Such heavy-handedness was learned and even required when dealing with crowded dockets, reluctant litigants, busy lawyers, lazy lawyers. But the Judge had run his family in pretty much the same manner as he'd run his courtroom, and that was the principal reason Ray Atlee was teaching law in Virginia and not practicing it in Mississippi.

He read the summons again, then put it away, on top of the pile of current matters to deal with. He walked to the window and looked out at the courtyard where everything was in bloom. He wasn't angry or bitter, just frustrated that his father could once again dictate so much. But the old man was dying, he told himself. Give him a break. There wouldn't be many more trips home.

The Judge's estate was cloaked with mystery. The principal asset was the house—an antebellum hand-me-down from the same Atlee who'd fought with General Forrest. On a shady street in old Atlanta it would be worth over a million dollars, but not in Clanton. It sat in the middle of five neglected acres three blocks off the town square. The floors sagged, the roof leaked, paint had not touched the walls in Ray's lifetime. He and his brother could sell it for perhaps a hundred thousand dollars, but the buyer would need twice that to make it livable. Neither would ever live there; in fact, Forrest had not set foot in the house in many years.

The house was called Maple Run, as if it were some grand estate with a staff and a social calendar. The last worker had been Irene the maid. She'd died four years earlier and since then no one had vacuumed the floors or touched the furniture with polish. The Judge paid a local felon twenty dollars a week to cut the grass, and he did so with great reluctance. Eighty dollars a month was robbery, in his learned opinion.

When Ray was a child, his mother referred to their home as Maple Run. They never had dinners at their home, but rather at Maple Run. Their address was not the Atlees on Fourth Street, but instead it was Maple Run on Fourth Street. Few other folks in Clanton had names for their homes.

She died from an aneurysm and they laid her on a table in the front parlor. For two days the town stopped by and paraded across the front porch, through the foyer, through the parlor for last respects, then to the dining room for punch and cookies. Ray and Forrest hid in the attic and cursed their father for tolerating such a spectacle. That was their mother lying down there, a pretty young woman now pale and stiff in an open coffin.

Forrest had always called it Maple Ruin. The red and yellow maples that once lined the street had died of some unknown disease. Their rotted stumps had never been cleared. Four huge oaks shaded the front lawn. They shed leaves by the ton, far too many for anyone to rake and gather. And at least twice a year the oaks would lose a branch that would fall and crash somewhere onto the house, where it might or might not get removed. The house stood there year after year, decade after decade, taking punches but never falling.

It was still a handsome house, a Georgian with columns, once a monument to those who'd built it, and now a sad reminder of a declining family. Ray wanted nothing to do with it. For him the house was filled with unpleasant memories and each trip back depressed him. He certainly couldn't afford the financial black hole of maintaining an estate that ought to be bulldozed. Forrest would burn it before he owned it.

The Judge, however, wanted Ray to take the house and keep it in the family. This had been discussed in vague terms over the past few years. Ray had never mustered the courage to ask, "What family?" He had no children. There was an ex-wife but no prospect of a current one. Same for Forrest, except he had a dizzying collection of ex-girlfriends and a current housing arrangement with Ellie, a three-hundred-pound painter and potter twelve years his senior.

It was a biological miracle that Forrest had produced no children, but so far none had been discovered.

The Atlee bloodline was thinning to a sad and inevitable halt, which didn't bother Ray at all. He was living life for himself, not for the benefit of his father or the family's glorious past. He returned to Clanton only for funerals.

The Judge's other assets had never been discussed. The Atlee family had once been wealthy, but long before Ray. There had been land and cotton and slaves and railroads and banks and politics, the usual Confederate portfolio of holdings that, in terms of cash, meant nothing in the late twentieth century. It did, however, bestow upon the Atlees the status of "family money."

By the time Ray was ten he knew his family had money. His father was a judge and his home had a name, and in rural Mississippi this meant he was indeed a rich kid. Before she died his mother did her best to convince Ray and Forrest that they were better than most folks. They lived in a mansion. They were Presbyterians. They vacationed in Florida, every third year. They occasionally went to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis for dinner. Their clothes were nicer.

Then Ray was accepted at Stanford. His bubble burst when the Judge said bluntly, "I can't afford it."

"What do you mean?" Ray had asked.

"I mean what I said. I can't afford Stanford."

"But I don't understand."

"Then I'll make it plain. Go to any college you want. But if you go to Sewanee, then I'll pay for it."

Ray went to Sewanee, without the baggage of family money, and was supported by his father, who provided an allowance that barely covered tuition, books, board, and fraternity dues. Law school was at Tulane, where Ray survived by waiting tables at an oyster bar in the French Quarter.

For thirty-two years, the Judge had earned a chancellor's salary, which was among the lowest in the country. While at Tulane Ray read a report on judicial compensation, and he was saddened to learn that Mississippi judges were earning fifty-two thousand dollars a year when the national average was ninety-five thousand.

The Judge lived alone, spent little on the house, had no bad habits except for his pipe, and he preferred cheap tobacco. He drove an old Lincoln, ate bad food but lots of it, and wore the same black suits he'd been wearing since the fifties. His vice was charity. He saved his money, then he gave it away.

No one knew how much money the Judge donated annually. An automatic ten percent went to the Presbyterian Church. Sewanee got two thousand dollars a year, same for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Those three gifts were carved in granite. The rest were not.

Judge Atlee gave to anyone who would ask. A crippled child in need of crutches. An all-star team traveling to a state tournament. A drive by the Rotary Club to vaccinate babies in the Congo. A shelter for stray dogs and cats in Ford County. A new roof for Clanton's only museum.

The list was endless, and all that was necessary to receive a check was to write a short letter and ask for it. Judge Atlee always sent money and had been doing so ever since Ray and Forrest left home.

From the Audio Cassette (Unabridged) edition.

Copyright 2002 by John Grisham

Meet the Author

John Grisham is the author of Skipping Christmas, A Painted House, The Brethren, The Testament, The Street Lawyer, The Partner, The Runaway Jury, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, The Client, The Pelican Brief, The Firm, and A Time to Kill.

Brief Biography

Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia
Date of Birth:
February 8, 1955
Place of Birth:
Jonesboro, Arkansas
B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981

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The Summons 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 256 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing much happened. Too much talking.
Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
John Grisham once again goes to Mississippi to weave a tale of family, greed, and paranoia that is solid from beginning to end. The main character is likeable although a little bland at times. The story had me guessing as to who was behind what. Although there were legal elements in the book it isn't a legal thriller but it was a thriller. One complaint was I wanted more of Clanton, MS. Many times Grisham has transported me to the South and here it was just a locale. Overall, a solid read but not Grisham's best.
JustMyTwoCents More than 1 year ago
I rarely rate a book with less than 3 stars, but this one deserved it-- Not much to say about this book, particularly the main character, Ray. Lots of action, I suppose, with him driving back and forth from  Virginia to Mississippi with some unknown scary individual following his every move. However, I couldn't find a  reason to like Ray or any of the other characters for that matter. All I knew was that he was obsessed with greed, and later, fear, despite making a huge salary as an underworked college professor. Very minimal character development in this book. It reminded me of The Firm. If you want to read a better Grisham book, pick up "A Painted House."
Chas96 More than 1 year ago
This book is an apple waiting to be plucked by anybody who is interested in law work or just interested in mysteries. The storyline revolves around lawyers and courthouse work. I learned some about the difficulties and controversies that take place in the courtroom. This is the first book that I have read by John Grisham and because I enjoyed it I will look forward to reading more of his novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I've read by John Grisham, and I was very disappointed given his stellar and famous reputation as a best-selling author. NOT recommended for those who find the area of the law boring nor for those who enjoy multi-faceted, changing characters. After a while the people in the southern town become very predictable (there's Ray's friend who sleeps with a woman in his law office, there's the broad whom the judge slept with for decades who wants money after his death, there's the brother who has a drug problem, etc.) There really isn't much character development beyond stereotypes (for instance the male stereotype is when Ray says that he must call one of his former students for a date because her body is just too hot to resist). Overall could be interesting at times (like when he finds the money), but besides that you read on for at least a hundred pages waiting for something worthwhile to happen. Meanwhile all Ray does is jog, drive, and gamble. Just not what I'd have expected from someone of Grisham's acclaim. Be careful of this one. Only buy it if you find it for $3 at a local bookstore like I did.
chamada More than 1 year ago
If you like Grisham you'll enjoy this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Summons was almost a different type of write for Grisham. The gist of the story is a man's father dies, leaving him with a bank account. A bank account with three million dollars in it. The start of the book was slow. But after a few chapters it slowly picked up. However there seemed to be no climax, it just fell right into the end. The reason I had to keep reading was, I was tring to but myself into the main charactors shoes. What would you do with 3 million dollars? You could buy just about any thing you wanted! All in all this book was alright. If you like John Grisham, I would give this book a try.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Summons, written by John Grisham, is a mystery that will have the reader on the edge of their seat the whole way through. The main character, Ray Atlee, has just found a little over $3,000,000 in cash in his dead father¿s estate. Ray had always known his father, a prestigious judge from Clanton, Mississippi, to be conservative and never would have kept so much money to himself. The fight for the money begins the night of his father¿s death when someone attempts to break into the house, presumably for the money. From that point forward, Ray scours the tiny town of Clanton looking for some answers while someone is hot on his trail dying to get their hands on the money. I found this book to be quite the page turner. There were many elements to the book¿s characters and plot that caused it to steer away from your average mystery. The first thing I liked was that it was written in present day. Some books leave the reader confused because they were not written in this day and age, but The Summons is very descriptive in the time setting the author chose, which made it easier to follow. The plot also made the book very exciting to read because it had two mysteries rolled into one novel. The first mystery was a ¿whodunit¿ type. The reader is left with tiny hints on each page leading to a possible suspect in the crimes Ray Atlee faces. There are times in the book where the reader may say they know who is causing Ray so much turmoil, but then something Ray finds crosses that person off the suspect list. The second mystery asks ¿where¿. The reader is in constant suspense as Ray Atlee tries to find out where the money initially came from. Once again the reader is left constantly guessing. The characters also made the novel a fun read. Ray Atlee is the average middle-aged man whose wife just left him. At the beginning he is a depressed college professor but as the mysteries unfold his character evolves into an interesting detective one can¿t help but enjoy. Ray¿s brother, Forrest, is an alcoholic and a drug addict. He doesn¿t become a main character until the end of the novel, but whenever he is mentioned in short you can be sure there will be excitement to follow. There are some other very interesting characters which comprise the plot of the novel such as suspects in crime and some of Ray¿s alliances. The one feature of the book that makes it a great read from beginning to end is the cultural significance and the theme of the book. The novel shows what great power money can have over mankind. Throughout the book we follow Ray as he tries everything in his power to keep his newly found money safe from anyone who wants to take it away. There are criminals with heavy weapons not only trying to get the money, but to also get Ray. One may wonder why Ray doesn¿t leave the money to get back to a safe and normal life free of guilt and fear. The answer lies in a trait everyone possesses - greed. Ray¿s greed and yearn for wealth was enough for him to risk his life for. The theme expresses that American¿s today do not live for life itself but they live for money and power. When one stops living for something that may be completely out of reach, life can be a lot less hectic. The one aspect of the novel that may confuse the reader is the language used. Ray Atlee¿s father was a judge and Ray is a professor of law. The novel consistently uses legal terminology which can be confusing to anyone who is not familiar with the language. At times the novel can drift into what may be seen as lengthy and boring but the author makes every paragraph like a piece of a puzzle, towards the end the reader begins seeing the whole picture and the useless facts come together. The Summons is a well written piece of literature. Not only does the reader get a suspense story but they also get a moral to apply to everyday life. Though the language may be difficult to understand at times and could be better understood by someone in a law profession, anyone ca
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Classic Grisham left the building many years ago ( think Painted House and Skipping Christmas ( made into the cruddy movie Christmas with the Kranks). However, this book brings out his old style in a story of brotherly "love", a cranky old father, money, envy and consequences. The writing is tight and enjoyable. The character of Ray Atlee is much better than Forrest, his addicted brother, but it's the characters of Harry Rex and Claudia that shine the best in this book that might just make me look for other Grisham authored books again
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I enjoyed the book but it was slightly above an average book. I would buy it again but it was not his best book, although i still enjoyed it.
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Good book,,
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I wasn't impressed with this at all. I guess I expected more.
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