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 Now the judge is a shadow of his former self, a sick, lonely old man who has withdrawn to his sprawling ancestral home.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.