The Testament by John Grisham

riverboat looks black against the setting sun reflected in water
Boat goes where lawyer fears to go.

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.

The Testament by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1999. 435 p.
1999 bestseller #1; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Nothing buttoned-down about The Man From Brodney’s

As The Man From Brodney’s opens, “Taswell Skaggs was dead and once more remembered.”

Three law firms on two continents are fighting to win Skaggs’s fortune for their respective clients: Skaggs’s grandson, Robert Browne; his late partner’s granddaughter, Lady Agnes Deppingham; and the inhabitants of Japat, the South Sea island on which both men lived and died.

Small island in vast ocean.


The Man From Brodney’s by George Barr McCutcheon
Illus. Harrison Fisher. 1908 bestseller #9.
Project Gutenberg ebook #11572. My grade: B+.

To inherit, Browne and Lady Agnes must be man and wife a year from Skagg’s death.

Both are already married.

As the hopeful inheritors hasten to the island, American Hollingsworth Chase is kicked out of the Grand Duchy of Rapp-Thorberg: The man he struck for annoying Princess Genevra was her fiancé.

The parties of the two grandchildren are already in residence when the Brodney law firm’s agent representing Japat’s inhabitants arrives.

Brodney’s man is Hollingsworth Chase.

All that—and more—happens in just the first three chapters.

Although Skaggs’s will sounds crazy, it’s in keeping with his life. In fact, George Barr McCutcheon makes all the crazy things the characters do appear plausible for them in their circumstances.

McCutcheon keeps the story in high gear to the end with murder and mayhem, spies and sabotage, romance and retribution, and sprinkles it all with laugh-out-loud lines.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Black Bag holds face-paced mystery

No one could mistake The Black Bag for literature with or without a capital L.

But for a puzzling mystery at a break-neck pace, The Black Bag is an unmistakable winner.A black bag with that title and author Louis Joseph Vance's name in gold type on the bag.


The Black Bag by Louis Joseph Vance
Illus. Thomas Fogarty. ©1908. 1908 bestseller #9.
Project Gutenberg ebook #9779. My grade: B.

Philip Kirkwood is preparing to leave London for San Francisco. A Mr. Calendar asks Philip to carry something to America for him.

Philip declines. He doesn’t trust Calendar.

In in the hotel dining room later, Calendar asks Philip to escort his daughter home, saying he expects to be arrested momentarily.

To spare the girl, Philip agrees.

Looking for a man with a girl, detectives stop Philip.

Calendar gets away.

“Home” turns out to be an unlighted townhouse with a “To Let” sign.

Walking to his hotel, Philip has second thoughts about leaving Miss Calendar there.

He returns, finds the door ajar, the building in darkness.

Within those events, Louis J. Vance has hidden all the prompts for Philip’s subsequent adventures—chases on land and sea by hansom, train, automobile, and boat—and the story’s dramatic denouement.

Discerning readers will see that within a year the besotted Philip will be bored stiff by Dorothy Calendar, but that’s a story for another novelist to tell.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The House of a Thousand Candles: Its wax has waned

The House of A Thousand Candles opens with John Glenarm learning the conditions of his grandfather’s will from Arthur Pickering, a man John dislikes “as heartily as it is safe for one man to dislike another.”


The House of a Thousand Candles by Meredith Nicholson

Howard Chandler Christy, illus. ©1905 Bobbs-Merrill. 1906 bestseller #4.
Project Gutenberg eBook #12441.  My grade: B.


An orphan, John was raised by his grandfather, who wanted him to be an architect. John chose engineering and dissipated the fortune his father left him.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The will confines John to occupying Glenarm House without leaving the rural Indiana county or having company for a year.

John agrees out of respect for his grandfather and shame for the grief he caused him.

If John violates the conditions, the property reverts to Marian Devereux, a young woman whose aunt runs the Catholic girls school on property adjoining Glenarm House.

Meredith Nicholson spins this opening into a mystery-romance that is as ridiculous as the will is eccentric.

There are rumors of treasure hid on the property, secret passages, attempts on John’s life, the grandfather’s butler-companion who knows more than he lets on, and one very attractive girl at the school next door.

The House will provide pleasant diversion, but both story and characters will be snuffed from memory within a few days of reading.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni