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The cover for the bestselling novel SYCAMORE ROW

SYCAMORE ROW, published in 2013, is a mystery, thriller & suspense novel by John Grisham.

SYCAMORE ROW spent 7 weeks at #1 on the NYT Bestseller List. Between 2009 and 2018, John Grisham spent a total of 40 weeks at #1 on the NYT Bestseller list.

Jake chuckled and said, “Oh, I think it’s beautiful. You wanna go to the funeral?”


Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier. The second will raises many more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?

SYCAMORE ROW Analysis of:

Sycamore Row is used as an example in the following posts. Check them out!

Past TenseWriting a story in past tense is most common in genre fiction. Learn about 5 times to choose past tense.
Omniscient Point of ViewOmniscient point of view is all knowing. Learn 5 times to use it in your story.


I am not the person who should be reviewing this book. This is a type of thriller that just doesn’t appeal to me, ever. I read this book because it’s a great example of popular fiction (written by an author who spends a fair amount of time on the bestseller list). But I’m using the term “read” very loosely because I mostly skimmed it.

Anyways, obviously this type of thriller appeals to a lot of people (or it wouldn’t have been a #1 bestseller). So what do some other people think?

Personally, I prefer thrillers that are more nuanced and characters who don’t always succeed.

– Angela Savage

And so ultimately, Sycamore Row was a disappointment, perhaps particularly so because the return of Jake Brigance in such promising circumstances held so much potential.

– Material Witness

The story itself in SYCAMORE ROW was extremely interesting.

– Booking Mama
a typewriter

Writing Practice

Let’s do some writing exercises and prompts using SYCAMORE ROW as inspiration.

Prompt: The Opening Paragraph(s)

Your Task: This is the opening paragraph of the novel. Ignore everything you know about the story and use it as a writing prompt.

Using as much detail as possible, write another 300+ words.

Chapter 1

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.

Exercise: Mix & Match

This exercise is all about being creative. Stories are everywhere, you can make them out of any idea.

We’re going to merge characters from SYCAMORE ROW with a scene/setting from LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD.

Your Task: Rewrite the following setting/scene into one you would find in SYCAMORE ROW. Use the characters from SYCAMORE ROW!

Need an Idea?

Use the idea of the sunbeams and a pretty forest. Incorporate it into any scene from SYCAMORE ROW you’d like. You can choose to contrast a dark scene or use it to emphasize a lighter scene.


Little Red-Cap raised her eyes, and when she saw the sunbeams dancing here and there through the trees, and pretty flowers growing everywhere, she thought: ‘Suppose I take grandmother a fresh nosegay; that would please her too. It is so early in the day that I shall still get there in good time’; and so she ran from the path into the wood to look for flowers. And whenever she had picked one, she fancied that she saw a still prettier one farther on, and ran after it, and so got deeper and deeper into the wood.

Exercise: The First Chapter

There are five elements of an amazing first chapter.

Your Task: Analyze the first chapter of SYCAMORE ROW.

  • An interesting main character
    • Who is the main character?
    • What makes them interesting (to the reader)?
  • Conflict
    • Is there a conflict? What?
    • If not, what conflicts are hinted at for the future?
  • Mystery Over Action
    • Is it be action-packed, mysterious, or a combination? Explain.
  • Backstory
    • How much backstory was there?
    • Could some have it been presented later, or not at all?
  • Less is More
    • How many characters were introduced?
    • Too many, just right, or not enough? Explain.
a sycamore tree


GenreMystery, Thriller & Suspense
First Published
Oct 22, 2013
Print Length
(according to amazon)
568 pages
File Size
(according to amazon)
2,981 KB
Goodreads Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
Sycamore row goodreads rating (4 average rating with 93769 ratings)
Amazon Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
Amazon rating for sycamore row (4.5/5 stars by 19094 customers)
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Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of SYCAMORE ROW

Have you read SYCAMORE ROW?

If so, what did you think? If not, will you?

Like this post? Please PIN IT and follow me on social media. Thanks!

PS. share your exercises in the comments below. I’d love to see them.


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