Review

The Testament

by John Grisham

John
Grisham turns out one book a year. It's always highly anticipated.
It always marches up the charts. While some novels have been
"flatter" than others, they have always been great page-turners. He
tells a story like a lawyer. There are facts. They are not
embellished, but, rather are presented and then woven together to
tell a good tale. The story is almost a collection of snapshots or
vignettes. When they are all laid out, they tell the story like a
scrapbook. Here we did this. Then we did that. His voice is not
folksy, it's matter-of-fact. And, somehow, it just
works.  

Of his most recent work, THE TESTAMENT is written with the most
ease. The narrative voice is comfortable; it's not laden with the
urgent angst of characters aiming to prove something which was so
much a part of THE PARTNER and THE STREET LAWYER. It lacks the
killer edginess and anger. Maybe this is some insight into where
the author is in his own life, right now. There is a spiritual
quality to this book.

THE TESTAMENT does retain the trademark character found in each of
his books --- a person who improves himself because of something he
learned that changed his life. The story traces what the character
has heard and, then, how he acts upon it. It is pretty simple, but
from this setup, a compelling story emerges. The character here is
Nate O' Reilly, a man on the rebound who is in search of something
to believe in. He doesn't find one thing, but he does find
himself.  

Like THE STREET LAWYER, the book opens with the disappearance of a
pivotal character whose absence impacts the rest of the tale.
Without giving the plot away, I will say that this is the story of
one man's last will and testament and the affect it has on his
family, and the lawyers who are charged with probating it.

While everyone has heard stories about the reading of wills, few
novels have ever focused on the meaning of the word "testament."
This word is pivotal to the story since what Troy Phelan testifies
to in the will unleashes secrets, exposing his heirs for what they
really are --- both good and evil.  

Grisham always teaches me one legal term I never knew or explains a
process which I found rather vague. In this book, it is the
holographic will --- a document wholly in the handwriting of its
author. This will drives the book, but the testament is what is at
its soul and core.

There are some wonderful images of the Pantanal region of Brazil
which capture the flavor of the area vividly. The book drew me to a
map in the same way that, many years ago, Paul Simon's music with
Urubamba made me want to learn more about Peru. Obviously, it's an
area that's special to Grisham as his Author's Note at the end
attests. "Carl King, my friend and a Baptist missionary in Campo
Grande, took me deep into the Pantanal. I'm not sure how much of
his information was accurate, but we had a wonderful time for four
days counting alligators, photographing wildlife, looking for
anacondas, eating black beans and rice, telling stories, all from a
boat that somehow grew smaller. Many thanks to Carl for the
adventure."  

Exactly as I said. A man with a story that he had to tell. A really
simple thing that just works.  

Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald (CKCF@aol.com) on January 23, 2011

The Testament
by John Grisham

  • Publication Date: December 28, 1999
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0440234743
  • ISBN-13: 9780440234746