The Testament by John Grisham
While John Grisham’s 1999 novel, The Testament, is partly an adventure story and partly a courtroom drama, it’s also a tale of redemption. When multi-billionaire Troy Phelan commits suicide and leaves his fortune to an unknown, illegitimate daughter, Nate O’Riley unexpectedly finds himself in the remote Brazilian Pantanal searching for her. Unexpectedly, he finds himself. Once a high-powered, hard-drinking lawyer, 48-year-old Nate is now a jaded alcoholic and facing charges of tax evasion. His journey through the jungle brings him to the brink of death and awakens him to what matters most in his life.
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78-year-old Troy Phelan has built a vast real estate empire and enjoys every luxury money can buy. Selfish and cold-hearted, he detests his three ex-wives and six children, who mirror his own greediness and reciprocate his antipathy. As the first-person narrator of the first two chapters, Troy reflects on himself as “lonely and unloved, […] and tired of living.”
He summons his family to witness, via closed-circuit television, his signing of a new will on December 9, 1996. While his ex-wives Lillian, Janie, and Tira and his children watch from the first floor of his building in Washington D.C., Troy, in his top-floor office, signs the will before a panel of lawyers and psychiatrists. After the family exits the building, Troy pulls a different, hand-written testament from his robe, which “revokes all former wills,” and signs it on camera. He then springs from his wheelchair, jumps out the window, and dies on the sidewalk at his family’s feet.
“Vultures circling with […] hungry eyes, giddy with the anticipations of unlimited cash” is how Troy imagines his family before he dies, and they prove him right. He has left instructions for his lawyer, Josh Stafford, to delay the public revelation of his actual last will for one month, during which time his 47-year-old son, Troy Jr., feeling flush, buys two Porches. Meanwhile, the last will designates Rachel Lane, Troy’s secret daughter, the sole heir of his 11-billion-dollar estate.
As Troy is dead, the remaining narrative is told from a third-person perspective, which cross-cuts between the Phelan family’s litigation efforts in Virginia and Josh’s concurrent operation to locate Rachel in Brazil. The product of a brief encounter in Louisiana, 42-year-old Rachel only met her father once. Before his suicide, Troy traced her to Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands. She is working there as a World Tribes missionary and doctor. Josh decides to dispatch Nate O’Riley, a former associate of his firm, to Brazil. Nate can hardly refuse, as he has just left a drug rehab facility for the fourth time and is in trouble with the IRS. He needs the money Josh offers, so he sets off to find the missing heiress.