Jun 27, 09
Read in June, 2009
The Testament, by John Grisham
Grisham is always good, and he has a marvelous way of weaving an intricate plot. This one begins when an aging, irascible multibillionaire, Troy Phelan, decides to bedevil his three ex-wives and six children one last time; he sets up a situation whereby he will be examined by psychiatrists selected by them to establish that he is of sound mind, after which he publically and on camera signs the attorney-created will that gives them each a billion or so … and then, as soon as they leave, he signs a holographic will that says all previously signed will are invalid, directs his estate to pay their outstanding debts as of that date, requests his attorney not to tell them the contents of the will for a month, directs that they will not get anything if they contest the will, and gives the remainder of the estate to an illegitimate daughter that no one knew about -– and then jumps out of his penthouse, hitting the ground before all his pseudo-heirs get to the ground floor. The main plot of the novel is the interaction between the lawyers representing the various claimants and Phelan’s longtime attorney-friend, Josh Stafford, who feels that his function is to protect the estate.
An engaging subplot involves Nate O’Riley, one of Stafford’s junior partners, who currently is enjoying his fourth month in his fourth rehab clinic; Stafford gets him out and sends him off to search for the missing heiress, who is believed to be serving as a missionary somewhere in South America. Nate clearly is in danger of relapse; he gets blind stinking drunk the first night out of the clinic. Moreover, finding a missionary in South America turns out to be more of an adventure than he had anticipated, as he and a couple native helpers must trek out into the Brazilian Pantanal during flood season. What’s more, the missionary, when he finds her, turns out to be something other than what he expected.
I’m not going to spoil the book by telling what happened. Sufficient to say that it was such a good read that I put aside work and other things I really wanted to do in order to finish it, once I had gotten halfway through. Atty. Grisham is not very complimentary to his fellow attorneys in this book -– which has been the case, really, with just about all of his books. I find that my interpretation of the intrigue and game-playing of the legal profession is somewhat colored by my own experiences with various lawyers and also by the fact that one of my brothers has a law degree and one of my daughters is a practicing attorney in one of the wickedest cities in New England, but the behind-the-scene looks at how lawyers deal with each other and with the people they “serve” is always fascinating.