The Testament

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For the Robert Ludlum novel that was completed by Eric Van Lustbader, see The Testament (Van Lustbader novel). For the album by the rapper Cormega, see The Testament (album).
The Testament
The book cover of The Testament.jpg
First edition cover
Author John Grisham
Country United States
Language English
Genre Adventure Story
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
2 February 1999
Media type Hardcover Paperback
Pages 448
ISBN 0-09-924502-7

The Testament is an Adventure Story by American author John Grisham. It was published in hardcover by Doubleday on February 2, 1999.


Troy Phelan, an eccentric elderly billionaire, has written many wills during his life, but right before he dies by suicide, he leaves one final will, a holographic will, as a last surprise. He then leaps from a balcony to his death. He leaves his vast fortune to an illegitimate daughter, Rachel Lane, instead of his six children by three marriages. Her existence comes as a total surprise to everyone. His reason is revulsion over years of fighting with, and embarrassment from, his family, as well as their greed — much of which was due to his neglect of his children and multiple affairs (both personal and business).

His lawyers are now tasked with protecting Troy's wishes as well as finding the heiress. Nate O'Riley, a high-powered litigation lawyer and now recovering alcoholic, is sent to Brazil, where Rachel is believed to be living as a missionary.

While Nate is trying to find Rachel, Troy's family does everything in their power to contest the new will. They argue that although Troy was examined by three of the top psychiatrists in the nation, he was lacking sanity at the time of the new will.

The journey into the Pantanal of South America by way of Corumbá nearly kills Nate, but finally he and his guide locate the tribe with which Rachel Lane is living. She refuses the legacy or anything connected with it. Nate is unable to convince her otherwise, and returns to the United States after contracting dengue fever from a mosquito.

In the meantime, the ex-wives, children and respective lawyers continue attempting to destroy and disprove all evidence of Troy Phelan's sanity and even the will itself. They finally decide not to contest the will in court, fearing that their testimony during the deposition will further hurt their case. They also realize that two witnesses for the plaintiff are lying and would be torn to shreds by Nate should a trial ever take place. To settle the matter, Nate agrees that the relatives of Troy Phelan will be paid $50 million each (minus lawyers' fees) to stop turning the will contest into a legal quagmire.

When all is over, Nate returns to the jungle in order to get Rachel to sign off on the settlement, but when he arrives he learns that Rachel has died from malaria. She has, however, left instructions that the money be put into trust for the benefit of the indigenous peoples and that Nate will have control of the trust. The end of the book shows Nate riding off in a boat into the Pantanal, not caring if it took a month to get back to civilization.

Characters in "The Testament"[edit]

Troy Phelan, an eccentric, reclusive, ruthless billionaire businessman, commits suicide. In order to cut his family out of his will, he makes a fake will a few hours before his suicide, putting his family into that will. Minutes before his suicide, he shows his lawyer a new will that he would like carried out. This will leave only enough money to each of his heirs to pay off their debts up until the day of his death, and leaves everything else to Rachel Lane, an illegitimate daughter that none of his family and associates have known about.

Josh Stafford, Troy's lawyer, confidante, and executor, must find Rachel, but he knows only that she is a missionary somewhere in Brazil. He decides to assign Nate O'Riley, former high-powered litigator and recovering alcoholic, to find her. Nate is emerging from his fourth stay in rehab, and he reluctantly agrees to go. Josh manipulates the situation from behind the scenes.

Rachel Lane, an illegitimate daughter who Troy wills eleven billion dollars to. She is a missionary in Brazil who wants nothing to do with the money and refuses to sign any legal papers. She was re-contacted by her father when she was a teenager. Troy paid for her to study at college, but she then disappeared into medical school and seminary. She died by contracting malaria.

Nate O'Riley, the lawyer sent to find Rachel Lane. He has been off-and-on drugs/alcohol several times, crashing harder every time. A workaholic whose habits have shattered both of his marriages, he is sent to Brazil to get him away from the office. He has two children from his first marriage and two younger children from his second marriage. His encounter with Rachel eventually sets him on a path to spiritual redemption. He grew feelings for Rachel, before she passed away.

The Phelan Children, six children that were born to three different women (a seventh one died in a car accident). All of them, despite being given The Gift of $5 million at the age of 21 - are either broke or heavily in debt. They are desperate for a cut of Troy's wealth and employ even greedier lawyers.

  • Troy Junior: The oldest child. On his second marriage, his business ventures always end in failure. Was kicked out of college for selling drugs. Completely spent his $5 million before he was thirty, and was fired from multiple positions in his father's company.
  • Rex Phelan: The second child. Currently owes more than 7 million dollars, and is under investigation by the FBI for being a director in a failed bank. Runs a series of strip clubs although all his assets are in his wife's name, herself an ex-stripper.
  • Libbigail Phelan Jeter: The oldest daughter by Troy's first marriage. Long history of drug abuse. Currently married to her 3rd husband, an ex-biker she met while in rehab.
  • Mary Ross Phelan Jackman: The youngest child by Troy's first marriage. The only Phelan heir still married to their first marriage. Considered the least volatile and most level-headed of her siblings, being the only one without any arrests, addictions or expulsions. She and her husband (an orthopedist) live a wealthy lifestyle but are heavily in debt.
  • Geena Phelan Strong: The surviving child of Troy's second marriage (her brother Rocky was killed in a car crash in high school). Married to her second husband, whose business ventures have all been poor investments. Described as her husband as being "two immature kids living a pampered life with someone else's money, and dreaming of the big score."
  • Ramble Phelan: The youngest child overall, and the only one by Troy's third marriage. 14 years old and hasn't received any money yet. Only attends school when he feels like it, lives in his basement, avoids his mother as much as possible, has never had a paying job, played any sports or seen the inside of a church. Likes to play the guitar and dreams of being a rock star. Considered to be the "scariest" of the Phelan heirs.

Film adaptation[edit]

According to The Hollywood Reporter, in 2009, producers Mark Johnson and Hunt Lowry are developing a film adaptation of The Testament. Stuart Blumberg is attached to direct the film adaptation.[citation needed]