A Review Of The Testament A Novel Written By John Grisham

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Eighty-year-old Troy Phelan jumps out of his wheelchair, practically runs across the room out onto the terrace and dives from the top floor of his 14 story building to his death. The sick, sad, lonely self made multi billionaire knew that he wanted to die, knew that his family wouldn’t mourn him much and wanted to cause them as much grief as he could by setting the scene for the last act of his life.

A short time before his death Troy who was one of the richest men in the USA was examined by 3 notable psychiatrists and pronounced sound in mind. Then he signed a 90 page professionally prepared will sharing his billions out equally amongst his 6 children from 3 broken marriages. All of who were in the room with their individual lawyers at the time of the examination and signing. His families, their lawyers and the psychiatrists then left the room totally satisfied with the filmed proceedings.

Camera still running, and with just 3 others remaining (Josh Stafford, a partner in the law firm and Troy’s gofer Snead) Troy shredded that will and produced and signed an handwritten 1 page will revoking all others and leaving his billions to illegitimate daughter Rachael Lane. Only Troy knew of her existence and nobody including him had more than a vague idea where she was.

In a letter to Josh he ordered the contents of the will not to be disclosed until January 9th, one month after his death. In that final testament all he left his 6 legitimate heirs was payment of any debts incurred before the reading and that would be only on condition that none of them contested the will. Immediately after signing the will he jumped to his death leaving behind a great deal of controversy and uncertainty.

His slick lawyer Josh Stafford was faced with the problem of finding Rachel Lane. All he had to go on was that she was a trained doctor and a World Tribes missionary in Brazil working for a religious outfit who had been sworn to secrecy about her. As far as his 6 children were concerned they were his heirs and had no idea that the final will had cut them out. Their problem was in getting enough credit to buy the expensive things that they desired and would be able to afford once they inherited the money.

At this stage I pondered on the fairness of a man that can play games with his children and detest them so much that he can disregard the security of their futures yet leave a massive fortune to a daughter that he had only met once and 20 years earlier. We learn that he had little interest in them as children and that each had received a trust fund of $5,000,000 on reaching 21, excepting for his weird 14 year old son Ramble whose money was waiting in trust for him. The 5 who had received their trust funds had gone through most or all of the money and some were in debt. Troy had worked hard for his money and was certain that his incompetent children and their partners would fritter the fortune away. I can understand that point of view but heck what’s the point of having money if you live austerely as Troy did and don’t enjoy it.

Josh decides rather strangely to send 48 year old food litigation lawyer Nate O’Riley to Brazil to look for Rachael. At the time of Troy’s death alcoholic Nate is drying out in a rehab centre for the umpteenth time and hardly the most suitable choice for the task and the temptations on the way. With 2 failed marriages and children that don’t like him, Nate’s excess baggage includes self-pity and to a certain extent the self-delusion of an alcoholic who has often stumbled at the hurdles of reform.

Nate travels to the Brazilian jungle while the Phelan heirs and their many legal advisers wrangle greedily over the inheritance. The Testament swings back and forth between both aspects of the story but my favourite parts were the descriptions of Nate sailing down an alligator infested river in a storm and the settlement of hostile semi-naked Ipica Indians and their surroundings.

I won’t say any more about the plot except that the will was read 2 weeks instead of a month after Troy’s death as he specified. I found that rather odd and there was no real reason given for not carrying out Troy’s last wishes, certainly not enough to affect the plot.

I haven’t read anything by John Grisham before and only picked The Testament in the library because of reading enthusiastic opinions about some of his other books. I wasn’t disappointed in my choice and found the storyline interesting enough to want to read to the end and find out what happens although it didn’t totally absorb me to a point where I couldn’t put the book down. I found some of the plot implausible but it seemed to strengthen rather than weaken this piece of fiction.

The main character Nate was well described and it was quite easy to build up empathy with him, but in parts I wanted to give him a big nudge with an extreme part of my anatomy. Part of the implausibility of the book was the speed in which Nate managed to travel to a remote part of Brazil called the Panatel, have some adventures and find Rachel with little information to go on.

When Rachel finally comes into the story I found it hard to find any empathy with her. She’s a good woman, dedicates her life to her religion and caring for natives in a remote part of the world with little access to what we call civilisation. Suffers unimaginable hardships every day stoically. A tough lady yet disappointingly little of her personality is exposed.

My favourite character was Jevy, Nate’s guide and translator in Brazil. Jevy had lived in the USA for a while and one day wanted to go back there. He came across as a caring, loyal, humorous and intuitive young man and was used in the story to keep Nate’s feet on the ground. I would liked to have seen the character expanded upon and explored more.

The Testament drew to a satisfying conclusion, leaving me with lots of things to think about. We all have to die sometime but wouldn’t it be awful dying knowing that the uncaring vultures waiting to pounce on what we leave behind are our children and the ones that we would most want to mourn us. It made me think about the lives of children with rich parents who spend time making more money instead of loving, raising, guiding and enjoying their children.

I learned something about the perils of the jungle and the way primitive tribes still live even now. I thought about the value of missionaries who apart from bible bashing offer invaluable medical care and knowledge making a not always welcome good and real difference to the existence of people from remote areas.

Greed was the motivation of many of the characters in the book, including some of the lawyers. You learn that those who uphold the law are not always honest when millions are at stake and hope that the storyline isn’t too true to life. Once the scenes with the lawyers came in I expected to find the book boring. I didn’t, I found myself curious to know how the Phelan heirs would react and just how low they and their lawyers would stoop. The switches to the jungle adventure were perfectly timed to stop me from ever feeling bored.

Although classed as a thriller it wasn’t thrilling, just a well told story with adventure, a hint of romance, a delve into the lives of spoilt filthy rich, an insight into the mind of a reforming alcoholic and the amount of money that lawyers can make out of other peoples deaths. Not the best book that I’ve ever read but still eminently readable and recommended for long winter evenings curled up in front of the fire. I shall certainly read more of John Grishams work in the future.

If you would like to buy this book click on The Testament

I’m reading The Racketeer by John Grisham at the moment and enjoying that too. John Grisham is certainly very talented.

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