The Test

The Test

3.9 10
by Patricia Gussin

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Renowned philanthropist and billionaire Paul Parnell had reached the pinnacle of monetary success, but not without cost. Had he put too much emphasis on work and spent too little time with his family?Determined to leave something far more valuable than money to his six children, Paul instructs his lawyers to create an unusual last will and testament. This unorthodox…  See more details below


Renowned philanthropist and billionaire Paul Parnell had reached the pinnacle of monetary success, but not without cost. Had he put too much emphasis on work and spent too little time with his family?Determined to leave something far more valuable than money to his six children, Paul instructs his lawyers to create an unusual last will and testament. This unorthodox will, which stipulates that the lion's share of Paul's two billion dollar estate be given to the heirs who pass the test, was Paul's last hope of creating an enduring legacy by inspiring his children to give back to society and embrace a code of moral values.The six children-Rory, Frank, Dan, Monica, Carla and Ashley-have only one year to make a difference. But what a difference one year will make.Before these six very different siblings can complete the test, they'll be forced to face their personal demons and the incredibly evil influence that could claim one of their own.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Gussin's second novel was a finalist in the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards 2007

Gussin's debut, [i]Shadow of Death[/i], was a finalist for International Thriller Writers

A substantial promotional budget will allow extensive national advertising, including targeted print media ads and mainstream print outlets

A multi-tiered publicity campaign to include wide distribution of Advanced Reading Copies, a national author tour and Book Sense Programs

Author appearances at major conferences/literary events and will maintain an active website; outreach to independent bookstores, book clubs, libraries and publisher/author professional networks

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Oceanview Publishing
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

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The Test

A Novel

By Patricia Gussin

Oceanview Publishing

Copyright © 2009 Patricia Gussin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-933515-19-9


Philadelphia, December 2000

The door to the psychiatry department stood ajar. Ashley Parnell dabbed her eyes and knocked. In a black cashmere suit and creamy silk blouse, she looked more like an MBA intern than a fourth-year medical student. But her shoulders were slumped, her eyes puffy and red. It wouldn't take a psychiatrist to tell that all was not right in her world.

"Dr. Welton?" She called beyond the door labeled Acting Chief, Psychiatry.

"Come in." The voice inside distinctive, yet annoyed.

Psychiatry had not been her favorite rotation. Talking to crazies all day had started to make her question her own mental stability.

"I'm sorry to interrupt —"

"I assume you're the medical student who called?" Dr. Welton glanced up, fixing ice-blue eyes on her. "I don't have much time. What can I do for you?" He signaled for her to take the chair across from his pristine desk.

For an instant, Ashley felt her eyelids flutter and her knees start to wobble. Why? The man inspecting her looked remarkably like her father. A trim, muscular build, tanned face, and silver-tinged sandy hair, so much like Dad, maybe fifteen years ago.

"The reason I'm here is that my father died yesterday, and I need to hand in my patient report so I c-can —"

"I see. Did you bring it with you?" Brusque, to the point, Dr. Welton held out his hand.

Ashley fumbled in her bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers. Once she submitted these reports, she'd complete her psychiatry rotation two days early, free to attend her father's funeral.

Important to make eye contact, Ashley reminded herself as she handed the professor the packet, one sheet for each of the seven schizophrenic patients she'd been assigned. Psychiatrists always make a big deal about eye contact, but when she tried to engage his eyes, a surge of new tears made her blink hard and clamp down her jaw. Even if this guy did remind her of her dad, she would get out of here without a crying jag.

She groped inside her purse for Kleenex, and when she looked up, Dr. Welton was staring at her. His index finger stabbed at her signature at the bottom of the first page.

"You're Miss Parnell?"

He rose from his swivel chair and came around the desk. He whisked a snowy-white, monogrammed handkerchief from his pocket and held it out to her. "I didn't realize. I am deeply sorry about your father. Such an admirable man."

He tucked the handkerchief in Ashley's hand. It felt stiff with excess starch, but she accepted it, wondering whether she should actually use it to blow her nose. Before she could decide, he grasped one arm in a protective gesture and assisted her across the room to a paisley upholstered couch. The couch symbolism didn't even register as Ashley fought to contain her tears. She had never considered herself overly emotional, but today she felt desperately alone.

"Miss Parnell, please. Let's sit for a moment." Dr. Welton's voice was now warm and comforting. "I just want to make sure you're okay. I'll get you some water."

"I'm okay." Ashley had intended to leave right away, but she found herself moving robotically under his touch. She clamped the cool glass of water in both hands as Dr Welton joined her on the couch.

"Do you want to tell me about your father?"

Ashley, always a private person, found herself pouring out her life to Dr. Welton: her father's two-year battle with pancreatic cancer, losing her mother to cancer three years before her father, how she had always wanted to be a cardiologist like her mother. When she finished, she found herself encircled in Dr. Welton's arms, sobbing uncontrollably.

There was a knock at the door and a muffled voice interrupted, "Dr. Welton, you have patients waiting in the clinic."

"I am so, so sorry." Ashley jumped up, wringing her hands. "I've taken too much of your time. I need to get home."

"Miss Parnell, you're too upset to drive. Let me run you home."

"Thank you, but my driver is waiting," she said. Again, he took her arm. "I'm so sorry. Naturally, I'll come back after the funeral and," she pointed to the stack of papers on his desk, "and f-finish."

"No need, Miss Parnell. I'll handle everything with the psych department."

She felt a slight shudder. "Thank you," was all she could think to say.

"Let me escort you to your car."

Ashley ignored the raised secretarial eyebrows as Dr. Welton walked her out of the office and down the corridor.

Under the flutter of wet snowflakes, Conrad Welton stood transfixed as the chauffeured, forest green Mercedes merged into traffic, Ashley Parnell ensconced in the backseat. Attractive, not stunning or sexy, but classy. Medium height with a bit of a slouch, average weight — maybe 120 pounds — light auburn hair pulled back, sad brown eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses. A conservative designer suit. No jewelry, but med students rarely wore rings or bracelets.

The girl had sounded intelligent, but introverted. From her actions, Welton detected a lack of self-esteem, quite unexpected given her position of privilege. Despite the frigid winter air, Conrad felt a surge of warmth course though his veins. An heiress had stumbled into his office at the most propitious of moments: she had an Oedipal complex at a most vulnerable stage; was under extreme emotional stress; and would be susceptible to imprints that defied her own logic and personality. There'd been no doubt that she'd felt the chemistry between them. He'd felt the quickening of her heart and the heave of her chest as he'd held her close.

After enduring a banal clinic session, Conrad hurried back to his office. He instructed his secretary to hold all calls so he could turn his attention to the Internet. The object of his study: the recently deceased Paul Parnell, world-renowned billionaire and philanthropist.

Paul had been the retired CEO of Keystone Pharmaceutical. According to the annual reports, he'd amassed stock worth close to a billion. He'd been a founding partner of Gene-Tech which went public, another quarter of a billion. He'd been a primary investor in Computer Appliances. When it went public, another quarter of a billion. Inheritance from his father's estate with appreciation, at least eight million. Real estate, an art collection, lots of other luxuries including a jet and a helicopter accounted for another eighty million or so. And there was that Nobel Prize, a status symbol to add to the money.

At six thirty p.m. when Welton logged off the computer, he found a haphazard arrangement of pink message slips taped to the back of his door. The usual trivia that plagued him. An admission to the psych unit — suicide watch. A consult request from the floor — panic attack — would he use hypnosis? A call from the dean: had he sent over the monthly department update? He hadn't. The dean had as much as told him he'd never be chairman of the department now that the National Institute of Mental Health had terminated his research grant. He didn't intend to play this demeaning game much longer. His reputation was second to none in the field of medical hypnosis since the passing of his mentor, Milton Erickson, and he had tenure, so the university couldn't fire him. But the whole field of psychiatry bored him now.

Crumpling the handful of notes, Welton tossed them into the trash.

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia was crowded with dignitaries, political leaders, and business icons. The day was brisk but sunny, the streets cleared of the light snow of the day before. A day much too cheery for a funeral. Welton debated whether or not to attend. He needed a natural way to reconnect with Ashley Parnell, and was anxious to glean as much inside Parnell information as he could. As a psychiatrist, he was trained to observe how people deal with stress, and today's insights could be valuable to his plans.

The vestibule was crammed with flowers and people. Conrad disliked crowds, but he calmed himself, nodded to fellow attendees, and wended his way toward the Parnell family. He found Ashley standing between her sisters. One was definitely older, and fat compared to Ashley. The other, who Welton knew from his research was a professional model, had that typical emaciated look. All three women wore black dresses and wide-brimmed black hats as they greeted the snaking line of mourners. Welton joined the procession, noting how the chubby sister slowed the process down, sharing the details of the old man's death, singing the praises of the hospice. Waiting to get to Ashley, he got a good look at the skinny sister. She didn't look anything like the glamourous photos he'd seen on the Internet. Leaning heavily on Ashley, she was either consumed with grief or she was stoned. The latter, he surmised.

Murmuring, "I'm sorry," Welton passed along the family in the line of mourners. When he stood in front of Ashley, he paused long enough to make sure she recognized him. This time she wore no glasses, he noted. Reaching to press her hand, he was rewarded with a gentle squeeze. He then abruptly left the cathedral, the stench raised by so many flowers sickening him.

The adulation of the masses, including the press, for the over-privileged, self-absorbed, pompous dead man disgusted Welton. All these people wanted a piece of the Parnell influence and money. Even a scrap would do. Well, no scraps for him, he had much more in mind.

Escaping the cathedral before the service began, Conrad had to step aside to avoid brushing against one of the two Parnell brothers, Senator Frank Parnell, junior U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Ashley's half brother. The senator's face was flushed and his jaw clenched. An expression of anger, not grief, Conrad surmised. He was tempted to follow the senator back inside the cathedral, but the sickening floral odor deterred him.

As Welton retreated, his attention was directed to a stage-whispered conversation between a sophisticated-looking woman, whom he recognized from his Internet search as Meredith Parnell, the senator's wife, and a partner in one of Philadelphia's most prestigious law firms, and a frail old man with very black hair.

"Frank's upset, Carl," said the Parnell woman, as if defending a petulant child. "He expected Paul to be buried next to his own mother, not Vivian."

"What can I say?" The old man's shoulders slumped further forward. "Paul and Vivian were married for twenty-three years. It's been thirty-seven years since Frank's mother, Kay, died. It's what Paul stipulated."

Welton knew exactly what this overheard tiff was all about. Which wife to be buried next to: wife number one or wife number two?

"I know there's nothing that you can do, but Frank is irate," the woman said. "Maybe after the will is squared away this afternoon, Frank'll come out of his funk."

As Welton turned to watch the senator's wife and the old man return to the family, he noticed a look of panic flash across the face of the other Parnell brother, who must be Daniel, the oldest of Paul's children, reported to be a recluse in Florida. Following Daniel's troubled gaze, Conrad observed two dark-haired women, both attractive, one younger than the other, and a young man enter through a side door. Not much to note in and of itself. But why did the Parnell brother look like he'd seen a ghost? So much to learn about these Parnells. And learn he would.


January 2001

Meredith and Frank Parnell, their daughter between them, rode in the stretch limousine from the cemetery to the Parnell home in Devon, on Philadelphia's Main Line.

"What a shame we can't have a gathering at the house," Meredith mused. "At least for the VIPs."

"Darling, you're nonstop when it comes to political opportunities."

Meredith reached over the little girl to take Frank's hand. "Every single vote counts. Just ask Al Gore."

It was no secret that Meredith was the brains behind Frank's political career. And Frank didn't deny it, basking as he did in her unabashed love for him, her extraordinary intelligence, and her unfailing political street smarts.

"Dad had his own agenda. Who would have guessed that he'd mandate the family return to the homestead immediately after the burial service to read the will?"

"He spent a lot of time behind closed doors before he died," Meredith said. "Ever notice that when men get older, they get more reluctant to talk to their kids about their money? I only wish he'd named me executor."

"Surprised me. Dad respected you. I don't know what got into him at the end. Maybe it's all in a trust and you'll get to be trustee. If not —"

"What are you guys talking about?" Elise grabbed both of her parents' hands and shook them.

"Just grown-up talk, honey," Meredith said, patting the seven-year-old's curly brown hair.

"Will you tell the driver to hurry? I want to get there the same time as my cousins."

Frank and Meredith rolled their eyes. The "cousins," not real cousins, but Paul had always insisted that Rory be treated like a Parnell. Rory, the daughter of Paul's second wife, had been twelve years old, and Frank had been fourteen, when their father married Vivian Barricelli and she and her daughter had moved into the house.

"Thank God, Dad never legally adopted Rory," Frank said, not responding to Elise.

Rory was married to a family doctor; they had five kids; they'd adopted three more. Thus the "cousins" that Elise so adored. Rory's reputation as a saint had long been a thorn in Frank's side.

"She may fool the rest of the world, but I've always known Rory for what she is, a leech trying to take what belongs to the Parnell family. And she spent a heck of a lot of time with Dad at the end," Frank said, strumming his fingers on the leather upholstery. "If Dad included —"

"Frank, not now." Meredith raised half-moon eyebrows. "We've been over that. Paul knew what we'll need and he wanted it for us. He took care of your senatorial race. He'll have taken care of your political future."

Meredith was right. That had been a shared dream — hers, his, and Paul's. Frank, president of the United States. Best case scenario: follow the second term of George W. In 2008, Frank would be forty-nine. Simply put, to make that happen, he needed the enormous amount of money now at stake.

"For now, be gracious," she advised. "Just act nice to everybody. No matter what happens, don't blow up. The media's still hanging around the family."

"You're a strange one to be giving me advice on 'being nice.' Your tolerance level for my family is zero."

"Except I always respected your dad," she said. And Frank knew that to be true.

For the rest of the trip, Meredith chatted with Elise. Frank didn't know how she could find so much to say to the kid. For him, Elise was a political prop. A nice enough child, very pretty and always dressed like she'd stepped from Saks' 'tween department. But Meredith truly loved the little girl and Frank respected that and never felt even the smallest twinge of resentment over the affection he had to share. At least Meredith didn't want more kids. Meredith didn't want Elise to have to share anything.

Frank used the rest of the ride to go over in his head the most pressing congressional issues. The screwed-up election in Florida was making Washington crazy. Bush was still not confirmed, although he was about to announce his cabinet nominees. The senate was looking at a 50-50 split. The Democrats had vowed to fight John Ashcroft's confirmation as attorney general. Committee chairs up for grabs. Politics in chaos. On top of that, a gunman had killed seven people in a Philadelphia row house and Mayor Street wanted Frank to join him for a press conference.

As Meredith and Elise chatted and Frank pondered, the car phone rang. The driver answered. "For you, Senator. Mr. Cleveland."

Matt Cleveland, Frank's young staffer and confidant, managed his calendar, making all decisions about allocating his time between the unending demands from D.C., and those back home in Pennsylvania.

"Bad weather tonight, Senator," Matt announced. The copter can't go. The Lear may make it out, but you'll have to take off out of Wings Field. Of course, if you're not in D.C. tomorrow, everybody will understand."

The car had arrived at the Parnell estate and lingered in the circular drive. "I'd like to get back tonight," Frank said. "But we just arrived at the house and I have to stay for the will. Call later with more specifics."


Excerpted from The Test by Patricia Gussin. Copyright © 2009 Patricia Gussin. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Patricia Gussin is a physician who grew up in Grand Rapids, MI, practiced in Philadelphia and now lives on Longboat Key, FL. She is also the author of Shadow of Death, Thriller Award nominee for Best First Novel, Twisted Justice, The Test, and And Then There Was One. She and her husband, Robert, are the authors of What's Next For ... You.

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The Test 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
bshowell More than 1 year ago
Paul Parnell is a billionaire who has just died. He made his money but near the end of his life he began to think about if it was too late for his grown children to learn life lessons. So he devised a test - if they wanted their money they could have it. After a year. If they pass the test. The problem? None of the children even deal with each other. They don't really like each other. And there's a surprise sixth child. That goes over as well as one would expect. Some children want the money, others want nothing to do with it, and maybe one misses Paul Parnell. Rory is a wifely type looked down upon by her siblings because she is a child of one of Paul's ex-wives and not of blood. Frank is a senator whose only goal is his political future. Dan is the black sheep, wanting nothing to do with the family name or the family money. Monica is the surprise sixth child, a famous singer whose parentage was known only to Paul. Carla is a model with a more than serious drug problem. And Ashley is the child who was still at home. Working on her medical degree and doting on Paul. What will they learn? What secrets lie in wait to be discovered? Who will crack? Will they pass the test? I loved, loved, LOVED this book. I found some of the characters extremely unlikeable but after the introduction of the test I raced through the book to find out what happened. There were surprising agendas, unforeseen plot twists, betrayals, and even death. Sometimes I was shocked, sometimes appalled, and sometimes just amused. You will truly follow the pages of this book to learn what the children are up to. In the process they will discover what they are truly made of. And in the end, we find out who passed the test. And who may not have.
crazypsychobooklover More than 1 year ago
When Paul Parnell died, he left behind a fortune in the billions, adult children by three different mothers, and a number of grandchildren and in-laws. Prior to his death, Paul realized that one of the regrets of his life was not being active and available in the lives of his children. His trusted lawyer is instructed to create an iron-clad will that requires his 6 surviving children to examine their lifestyles, morals, and values, and make decisions on what is important to each. The final disposition of family fortune will depend on the decisions made by the children over the next year. The family dynamics are interesting and somewhat convulted here, much like they are in any family of step children, half siblings, etc. It's interesting to watch the interplay between the sons and daughters, and the way they view themselves and each other. The author uses recent political and international events to weave throughout the story, adding an additional level of realism. The novel chronicles the next year in the family, and marks numerous ups, downs, sadness and happy events. In some cases, there is almost too much going on, and I found myself having to backtrack once or twice, just to check out familial relationships. In a novel with this many characters, plot twists and subplots, that's to be expected. Some of the twists the book used were easy to see coming, some were not. It definitely held my interest thoughout. If you enjoy suspense and family intrigue, you will enjoy this book. I plan to read more of this author's work in the future.
rcnc More than 1 year ago
Liked the suspense and the helpful dog
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NE-Karen More than 1 year ago
Good read. Would recommend!!
BellaCara More than 1 year ago
The book The Test by Patricia Gussin was a intriguing idea that was poorly conceived. The Test is a story of the patriarch of the Parnell family, the vastly wealthy Peter Parnell's, last dying wish for his successors. This wish is to not to make the same mistakes he did, focusing on business and wealth instead of what really matters. So enters "The Test." The problem with this book is not the premise itself, but the introduction of so many characters within the first two chapters. By giving us an in-depth ancestral chart Gussin tries to make the introduction of these main characters easier on the reader. What happens however is that we are left with more confusion and the inability to connect with any one person. Throughout the story, we are made to follow the Parnell family as they each traverse their own personal "Test" that has been personally crafted by Peter before his death. Each lesson is to be administered over the course of a year to find out if his heirs are worthy of such a vast amount of money. The story moved, however you find yourself needing to retreat back to the family tree to keep each character and where they belonged straight. By having so many main characters, each having their own personal journey, one has to relearn who the person is before you read what they are doing. The idea of The Test was ingenious, a wealthy father, in his last hours of life realizing what is truly important; tries to pass on wisdom he never could while alive. The Test was a great idea, with a grand moral lesson and a feel good ending. But with this many characters that you never are able to fully connect with, it falls flat in the end.
ccqdesigns More than 1 year ago
Billionaire Paul Parnell was a typical tycoon. He spent all his time making money any way he could and it was only in his last days that he realized the cost to him and his family. His six children had little or no relationship with each other, and most expected his money to always be there. So before he died he devised a test to try to bring his family back together and teach them the life lessons he failed to teach them when he had the chance. The only way they could claim their inheritance was to pass this test within a year. Even though the book is advertised as being about "The Test" and the synopsis is mostly about the test, the book only starts out being about the test and quickly looses that thread to become a murder mystery as someone targets the family members and the year counts down. Frank is the matriarch son and as such wants control of all the money. Dan is the rebel who left the family years ago. Ashley and Carla are the youngest sisters of Paul's second wife Vivian. Rory is Vivian's daughter. And then there is Monica. I found this to be an enjoyable easy read with a somewhat predictable story line. The book had quite a few story lines going at once that seemed a little disconnected or unnecessary, and the ending never did completely explain the outcome of the test to my satisfaction, but overall I would recommend the book.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
As a way to make up for his shortcomings in raising his family, billionaire Paul Parnell is determined to leave behind an important legacy for his six children that is more than merely doling out the fortunes of his estate. In his shocking will, Paul instructs his children, who each inherit an equal share of his two billion dollar estate, that before their inheritance is dispersed, they have a year to adopt a lifestyle of moral living and open giving towards society. Upon hearing of this strange news, the Parnell family members attempt to continue their selfish routines, while also trying to fit into their lives their father's test. Unfortunately, it seems that almost immediately, every family member must endure their own personal demons and are tested so greatly that, in the end, these events rock their core strength as members of the Parnell family, and threatens to destroy each and every one of them. Author Patricia Gussin takes a seemingly simple premise of rich families inheriting fortunes, and expertly adds to the story by including a suspenseful plot that moves readers onto new courses of adventure that includes, but are not limited to politics and evil greed. Despite a few minor flaws in the story including some unbelievable areas relating to hypnosis, and the somewhat rushed ending, the story unfolds in a quick paced setting filled with a great swirling plot of likable characters, even the ones who don't exactly deserve anyone's sympathy. Quill says: If you take a chance on this "test" you just may succeed in taking an enjoyable, suspenseful ride through the lives of the Parnell family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is nothing like a good mystery story, especially one that is set in your hometown. Landmarks that the author writes about are familiar enough to make the reader understand the story more. Philadelphia seems to be the setting for many of these stories (Lisa Scottoline being the master)...I suppose because of the city's historical value. "The Test" is the story of a billionaire family with roots in Philadelphia's exclusive Main Line. The many Parnell family members gather after their father's death to hear the reading of his will. They are shocked when they learn that they will only receive their part of the inheritance if they each pass his "test". Paul Parnell, the patriarch, felt guilty that he never really taught his children the morals they need to survive. Their inheritance will depend on if they can learn these morals in one year. Along the way, they will each face much hardship and tragedy. This novel had such an interesting premise, but never really succeeded in getting where it needed to go. I had a hard time getting through it, as I felt at times that I was reading a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery. The story is cliche'-ridden, and the ending comes so out of left field that it is laughable. Still, Gussin should be commended for her outline. This could have been a slam dunk. MY RATING - 2 To see my rating scale and other book reviews, please check out my blog:
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Philadelphia, the family of the late famous billionaire philanthropist Paul Parnell gathers for the reading of his will. He had outlived the three women in his life before dying at seventy-five. His first spouse Katherine died in 1963 giving him his two oldest children Daniel and Francis. His second significant other Monica expired in 1995 but they divorced two decades after one offspring, Monica. Finally his last marriage was to Vivian who past away three years earlier after leaving him with three kids (Rory, Ashley and Carla). The estate is enormous, but his adult children and those with spouses are stunned by what the executor explains to them. Paul felt he neglected his family and decided to "test" them. His five legitimate heirs are further disturbed to lean of his illegitimate offspring Monica. The angriest is Frank and his wife Meredith as they planned on his presidential run funded somewhat by the inheritance. The stipulation is simple: each must give back to society over the next year in order to deserve a share of the billions. Taking advantage of the confusion is avaricious psychiatrist Dr. Conrad Welton who plots to marry Ashley. Let the fun begin. THE TEST is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in a sort of Dynasty Survival contest in the first two years of this century. The story line is driven by the ensemble cast who by their varying behavior seem genuine though most of them spoiled as they cause twists to the plot compounded by a serpent in the battle to own Eden. Readers will enjoy Patricia Gussin's entertaining tale as Paul wanted to just get his children to give back and not just take, but he could not have known how deadly his test would prove to some of his children and their spouses. Harriet Klausner