The Summons

The Summons

by John Grisham

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A pillar of the community who towered over local law and politics for forty years, Judge Atlee is now a shadow of his former self—a sick, lonely old man who has withdrawn to his sprawling ancestral home in Clanton, Mississippi. Knowing that 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 elder, a Virginia law professor, newly single, still enduring the aftershocks of a surprise divorce. Forrest is Ray’s younger brother, the 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 he 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 to someone else.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345531988
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/2012
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 90,076
Product dimensions: 4.24(w) x 8.12(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

John Grisham is the author of twenty-three novels, including, most recently, The Litigators; one work of nonfiction, a collection of stories, and a novel for young readers. He is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He lives in Virginia and Mississippi.


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

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.

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The Summons 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 269 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
Anonymous 8 months ago
Not the best John Grisham book I've ever read. Slow and hated the ending
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I agree with some other reviewers who say this isn't as suspenseful or gripping as some of Grisham's other novels. However, it's been quite a few years since I've read a Grisham, and I found this one oddly refreshing, just because I haven't read a book in this genre for a while. Not a bad book, but not his best either.
les121 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not as good as The Pelican Brief. Some parts are pretty boring.
madamejeanie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ray Atlee is the elder son of Judge Atlee of Clanton, Mississippi, who,along with his younger brother, Forrest, has been summoned home by a terseletter from the old man. He arrives just in time to find his father's bodyon the couch in his study, still warm but very dead. It's no surprise toanyone. The judge has had cancer for a long time and was given about a yearto live, well, about a year ago. The judge was revered by everybody in thecounty and had hoped that both his sons would grow up and practice law rightthere by his side. But Ray escaped to academia where he teaches law at anivy league school and Forrest escaped into a haze of drugs and booze. Boththe boys were a disappointment to the old man.In the process of getting ready to settle the old man's estate, Raydiscovers 27 stationery boxes in a storage cabinet, each one filled to thebrim with $100 bills. He has no idea where the money came from or how hisfather came to own it. All he knows is that there is no way that money cameto the old man in an honest fashion. If he'd saved every penny he made as acircuit judge all those years, he wouldn't have amassed a fortume like this.But someone else knows about this money. And they are willing to kill toget it.This is a typical Grisham thriller, with a few twists and turns to keep yourinterest until the secrets are unfolded at the end. I enjoyed it the firsttime I read it and I enjoyed it this time around, too. It gets a 4.
MsGemini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another great legal story by Grisham. Great twist at the end.
tsisler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was not the in-depth page turner that I had hoped for. However, it was still an enjoyable, although predictable, light read.
koalamom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fast paced and easy to read. I didn't get the ending until I got there - good plot twist.
melorem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Judge Atlee is dying and has summoned both of his sons to his side. When Ray Atlee gets to the house his father is already dead. He had been dying of cancer and was in a great deal of pain. He wouldn't have lasted much longer and Ray seemed grateful that his father was no longer in pain. He becomes the executor of the estate and needs to deal with his brother who is constantly in and out of rehabs. In preparing the estate he finds three million in cash in the house and isn't sure where it came from. His father was a stickler for the law and didn't earn much money. Was it a bribe? In his search to find out where the money came from he realizes that someone is following him and knows about the money. He becomes increasingly more and more worried about the money and he knows it is ruining him. He finally gives into the threats... In the end Ray does find out who was chasing him for the money and no one is more surprised then him.This book was a pretty typical John Grisham novel that involves the law. The author doesn't go into too much legal jargon which allows the readers who are not lawyers enough information to follow the story line without it becoming overburdened with technical information. A good summer read but not as gripping as some of Grisham's previous novels.
lrobe190 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Ray Atlee receives a summons from his dying father, Judge Reuben Atlee, he immediately flies back home to Mississippi. When rhe arrives, he finds his father dead in his chair in his home office. Judge Atlee had been in the final stages of cancer and in severe pain, so Ray felt a mixture of grief and relief. His brother, Forrest, has been summoned also, so Ray decides to wait until he calls the coroner and the authorities, so Forrest can say goodbye in private. While Ray waits for his brother to arrive, he looks in a cabinet behind the sofa for some paper to write on and discovers a number of identical boxes. He opens one of the boxes and discovers it's full of money. After going through the rest of the boxes, he finds a total of $3 million. Ray is stunned. Where did this money come from? Why was it hidden? Who else knows it's there? Ray decides he can't just leave it there, so he moves all of the boxes to another location and decides not to tell anyone about the money until he knows more about it, not even his brother. Thus starts a journey of discovery for Ray. Along the way, he will learn more about his father and brother, will be followed and have his life threatened numerous times. Parts of this book are very suspenseful and it is very fast-paced. There is a suspenseful build-up to the end, but nothing really happens. I felt let-down when I finished it.
florencecraye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not the usual Grisham courtroom drama. A law professor discovers $3 million in cash in his father's study after the old judge's death and has to decide what to do with it. A good read for a long plane ride, but other than that nothing amazing. The plot could have been a little tighter. In the middle I couldn't tell if it was the character deciding what to do with the money or Grisham deciding what to do with the story.
karriethelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You find three million dollars in your dead father's house. Your brother is a drug addict who will put himself into an early grave if he the money to support his habit. What do you do?
edwardsgt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this Grisham a little heavy going, not his usual pacy plotting or page-turning suspense. The hero is a law professor in Virginia, estranged from his father, a Mississippi judge, who dies leaving a strange inheritance.
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