John Grisham 1999 best-seller The Testament is a courtroom drama with anacondas.
The novel opens with the dramatic suicide of America’s 10th most wealthy man. While guys in suits line up to bicker and dicker to secure a chunk of Troy Phelan’s estate for—and from—Phelan’s obnoxious heirs, only Josh Stafford, who had drafted and shredded many wills for Phelan, knows none of Phelan’s ex-wives and their children will get a cent from his estate.
While stalling on reading Phalen’s last will as directed, Josh hauls soon-to-be-disbarred lawyer Nate O’Riley out of his fourth stay in an alcohol rehabilitation program and sends him to find the illegitimate daughter to whom Phelan left his fortune. She’s a missionary to primitive people in the Pantanal in western Brazil.
Before this trip, Nate’s idea of personal challenge was avoiding alcohol for 24 hours. Suddenly he has to cope with a plane crash in a thunderstorm, a boat trip up swollen rivers, and dengue fever.
As he so often does, in The Testament Grisham produces a surprise ending that’s so well prepared it shouldn’t be a surprise. And as always in a Grisham novel, there’s far more than just the story line to unpack.
A. J. Cronin’s novel The Keys of The Kingdom headed the bestseller list in 1941. It was still on the list in 1942, although it had dropped to tenth place.
The novel remains good entertainment today. It is an intriguing character study of someone who finds that fitting is definitely overrated. Keys’ lead character, Francis Chisholm, the missionary priest to China’s “rice Christians,” could probably have answered “yes” to each of Leonard Felder’s 15 self-analysis questions to determine if one is an “insightful outsider.”
A full review of the novel is included with the 1941 bestsellers.
A. J. Cronin’s The Keys of the Kingdom is the story of a man who never fit in.
The suicide of the woman he loves drives Francis Chisholm into the priesthood. He’s more interested in practical faith than in proclamations of piety. Francis ticks off one priest by organizing a community center. He offends another by discovering a miracle was a girl’s overactive imagination.
The church sends Francis off to China. His “flourishing missionary compound” turns out to be a shambles, his parishioners “rice Christians.”
Refusing to buy converts, Francis opens a free medical clinic, takes in orphan girls, and establishes a school. He also establishes a relationship with a Catholic community in a remote mountain village and a friendship with a Methodist missionary couple.
Mostly, however, Francis wins respect rather than friends. The church retires him to Scotland, leaving his mission to priests with better PR sense.
Readers would probably not care for Francis in the flesh, but in the novel he’s a sympathetic character, both noble and flawed. And Cronin’s China scenes are reminiscent of Pearl S. Buck.
Though hardly great literature, The Keys of the Kingdom is a good read with a spiritually uplifting tone that’s free of any offensive doctrinal foundation.
The Keys of the Kingdom
By A. J. Cronin
1941 bestseller #1