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John Grisham's: The Testament

John Grisham’s tenth legal thriller, The Testament , is a departure from the stereotypical Grisham plot of an idealistic young Southern lawyer battling some giant force (the mob, an insurance company, etc.).  Instead, Grisham delves into the realm of estate law and personal redemption in a slow-paced, exotic, and well-written tale of greed, character flaw, and higher callings.

John Grisham's: The Testament

The Testament opens in a first-person narrative from the point of view of Troy Phelan, octogenarian billionaire.  Troy lives on the fourteenth floor of his global corporate headquarters, located near Washington, D.C.  Troy is a self-made billionaire, and describes the shambles that was his personal life—his three wives and six children—all of whom he hates with a passion.  To hear Troy tell it, his children are greedy and worthless, all desperate for one thing: for the old man to die and to get a share of his eleven billion dollars.  Little of their behavior throughout the rest of the novel sways the reader’s opinion of the younger Phelans.

Troy’s three families have hired psychiatrists in order to prove that Troy, Sr. is mentally competent to sign a will.  Troy meets with the psychiatrists in a session that is both videotaped and viewed by his wives and children.  At the end of the session, when the doctors pronounce him fit, he signs his will.  The doctors leave.  Troy takes out a handwritten will, nullifies any and all previous wills, and then jumps off the balcony of the 14th floor.  The narrative then switches to third person.

The new will is a bombshell, read only by Troy’s lawyer Josh Stafford.  The handwritten will, “my testament” as Troy calls it, leaves all of Troy’s money to a previously unknown illegitimate daughter, with only enough money for his other children to pay off their debts as of that day.  It then stipulates that Stafford is to keep the contents secret for a month.  The idea is that his six children will go out and pile up massive amounts of debt in the month during which they are expecting to receive half a billion dollars (which they subsequently do, buying Porsches and houses and raking up huge legal fees).

Josh’s first task is to locate Rachel Lane, Troy’s illegitimate daughter.  All that is known is that she is a missionary, somewhere along the Brazil/Bolivia border.  Stafford’s law firm will be completely tied up in litigation, so he needs someone he can send to Brazil.  The answer is found in Nate O’Riley, a partner in Stafford’s firm currently finishing up his fourth stay in rehab.  Clean and sober, he is sent to Brazil to find Rachel Lane.

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