The Will: A Novel

The Will: A Novel

4.2 5
by Reed Arvin

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What lengths would someone go to bury a secret?
What lengths would someone go to uncover one?

Henry Mathews, a young, ambitious associate at one of the top law firms in Chicago, is a man on the move. As lethal in a courtroom as a shark in an aquarium, he is rising fast. But his hard-driving mentor, the senior partner, is obsessed with a


What lengths would someone go to bury a secret?
What lengths would someone go to uncover one?

Henry Mathews, a young, ambitious associate at one of the top law firms in Chicago, is a man on the move. As lethal in a courtroom as a shark in an aquarium, he is rising fast. But his hard-driving mentor, the senior partner, is obsessed with a telling inconsistency on Henry's otherwise brilliant résumé: the year after he graduated from college, Henry enrolled at a seminary in Kentucky. Even more perplexing, Henry left suddenly three weeks before the end of the first year, and won't speak of the episode.
But Henry's past refuses to go away. Called back to his tiny hometown in Council Grove, Kansas, to execute the will of Tyler Crandall, the town's richest man, Henry gets enmeshed in a web of long-hidden secrets. Tyler has chosen not to leave his wealth to his grasping son, but instead has made a homeless derelict called the Birdman a sudden millionaire and Council Grove's most powerful resident.
The Birdman, scripture-spouting and delusional, prophesies a dark vision of retribution and hellfire. But soon it becomes clear that locked behind his madness is the key to the real history of Council Grove. When a grotesque and cruel act convinces Henry that powerful forces will do anything to keep those secrets hidden, he determines to protect the Birdman and uncover the truth. But the cost is high: Henry is in danger of losing both his job in Chicago and his beautiful, ambitious girlfriend.
Henry, given the opportunity to use his phenomenal legal skills for good, discovers that right and wrong are more complex than he imagined. Sucked into secrets of money, politics, and a tragic love affair -- secrets with the power to ruin lives -- Henry finds his own sense of morality under assault. As black and white turn to gray, what began as a legal battle becomes a spiritual journey stretching back to Henry's mysterious experience at the seminary.
More than just a legal thriller, The Will is an absorbing, deeply satisfying read.

Editorial Reviews
Our Review
Money and a Whole Lotta Madness
When the wealthiest man in the small town of Council Grove, Kansas, dies suddenly with a highly suspect last will and testament, the executor, up-and-coming Chicago attorney Henry Mathews Jr., must work to uncover dark secrets buried deep -- far deeper than six feet -- beneath his hometown. With The Will, Nashville-based music producer and award-winning composer Reed Arvin is playing a different tune, with a thrilling debut mystery of money, madness, and masterful courtroom drama.

Henry Mathews has been paying his dues to climb the ladder at the ruthless Chicago corporate law firm of Wilson, Lougherby, and Mathers -- although not without the nagging crisis of conscience you'd expect from a former divinity school student. But when Roger Crandall calls to say that his father, Ty Crandall, the multimillionaire who ostensibly ran the town where Henry grew up, is dead, Henry must put his breakneck career path on hold to execute the will written by his father, an idealistic lawyer who died in a car crash several years ago. No one could have predicted what the will reveals: The small-town mogul inexplicably left almost all of his fortune -- and with it, control of Council Grove -- to the local lunatic, Raymond Boyd, a.k.a. the Birdman, who has been proclaiming a mixture of Scripture and gibberish for 25 years. Now, Roger, who was almost cut out of the will entirely, will stop at nothing to get what he feels he deserves.

Although Henry has no sympathy for the Birdman, he knows his father would never have drafted such a will if Ty Crandall didn't know exactly what he was doing, and it is up to Henry to figure out the connection. He soon discovers that Raymond Boyd was a onetime employee of the local bank, one who approved the risky first loan that permitted Ty Crandall to purchase the oil wells that launched his success. Whatever else there is to know, however, is locked away in the Birdman's mind. Henry knows Ellen Gaudet, the past-her-prime pepper pot who has worked at the bank for decades, is hiding something -- but he doesn't know what, or why. And when Amanda Ashton, a whip-smart activist from the state Department of the Environment begins to investigate Ty Crandall's land, Henry learns that the ties between the millionaire and the madman could be even more haunting than he -- or anyone -- ever imagined.

Now, Henry must work to unravel the secrets his father and Ty Crandall took to their graves, and the search is one that will bring him face-to-face with the town's dark past, his own history, and his faith. In this intricate, thoughtful, and fast-paced novel, Reed Arvin has drafted a savvy, smart, gripping read, and we assure you: The Will is one book you won't contest.

Elise Vogel is a freelance writer living in New York City.

Library Journal
This is both a suspenseful mystery and a deeply felt examination of truth and faith. The latter is not unexpected, since Arvin (The Wind in the Wheat) is a producer of Christian music. But the legal aspects will surprise readers, because in this regard the book is on a par with anything John Grisham has written in recent years. Henry Mathews Jr. has come to a second crossroads in his life. The first occurred when, while attending seminary school, his faith was shaken, and he chose to become a lawyer instead. Henry is working his way up the corporate ladder at one of the largest, most powerful law firms in Chicago when he is called back to Council Bluff, KS, to deal with a will his father drafted. He finds himself defending an extremely vulnerable client against some of the most powerful men in Kansas. What dismays him is how much he wants to help Raymond Boyd and how much he's willing to give up to do so. Readers who want a little heart in their legal thrillers will enjoy this one. Recommended for all public libraries.--Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rising Chicago lawyer, returning to his little Kansas town as executor of a perverse will, ends up battling the powers that be on behalf of a legally incompetent client. Henry Mathews hasn't exactly heard Council Grove calling to him; if his late father hadn't drawn up oil-pumping rancher Tyler Crandall's will, he'd never be revisiting the place where his parents died. And the will's initial revelation—that Crandall has essentially disinherited his lickspittle son Roger to leave the bulk of his vast estate to Raymond Boyd, a crazy local character called Birdman because of the companion vulture he talks to—is hardly calculated to make its executor the most popular man in town. But Henry can't help feeling for the supposed legatee, who instantly becomes the target of every shot Roger and his unsavory allies can fire; his unplanned alliance with Amanda Ashton, a state environmentalist convinced that the oil wells are dangerously close to discharging a corrosive chemical cocktail into the water table, is hard to break; and his real life in Chicago, when he has a chance to return to it, suddenly seems a lot less real. The trouble is that apart from Amanda, nobody in Council Grove, including the saintly simpleton Henry takes on as his client, wants to see him get involved with a case that suddenly seems his last chance at salvation. How can he possibly survive the alliance of big money, big politics, and a long dirty history nobody's willing to bring to light? Yes, of course it all sounds familiar, but Arvin (The Wind in the Wheat, not reviewed) gives his people and the spreading mystery they're sitting on an impressive gravity that'salmostbetter than freshness. Grisham fans won't be disappointed; more than a few of them may find themselves, like Henry, actually switching their allegiance midstream.

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Chapter One

Margaret Crandall fluttered open her eyes at five-thirty and felt the warm sheets and covers around her. She hadn't needed an alarm clock in years; every day she awoke at the same time, her life a predictable routine of meals and laundry and sleep. She licked her lips, sighed into her pillow, and turned to wake her husband. He lay with his back to her, and she pushed him, her fingers spread against his cotton pajama top. Her hand pressed into his fleshy back, and he rotated forward slightly with the pressure. She pushed harder, and his arm fell suddenly, woodenly down over the edge of the bed. She lowered her hand and felt his skin; he was as cold and still as winter fields.

She did not move. For several minutes she lay silently, her breathing unanswered, hands balled up at her chin. Then she rose, put on a pale pink robe, and walked out of the room. She closed the door behind her quietly, carefully, as though not to disturb her husband. She walked down the hallway to the stairs, descending into the living room. Her balance began to disintegrate as she walked, her equilibrium slipping further away with each step. She began listing, leaning. She entered the kitchen but came to a halt just inside the door; focusing her eyes unsteadily on the sink across the tile floor, she righted herself and began inching forward. After a few last steps she collided with the kitchen table, knocking two plates and a cup to the floor. The dishes spun lazily downward and broke into pieces as they struck the tile, scattering sharp, colored chips to every corner of the room.

Upstairs, the dead man's son awoke with the sound of smashing china. Roger, tense and listening, pulled on his pants and entered the hallway. He passed his sister Sarah's room, descended the stairs, and saw his mother collapsed into an awkward sitting position on the kitchen floor, slumped over with her back to the sink.

Roger took his mother's shoulder in his hand; she moved easily in his grip, her limbs loose. At that moment the house was filled with a high-pitched scream of agony.

Roger took the stairs three at a time. He entered the bedroom, saw Sarah, and understood instantly that his father was dead. Sarah was clinging to the body, her head buried in the chest. Roger disengaged her, her nails leaving marks in the pajama top as he peeled them back. He pulled her out into the hallway; she resisted, reaching back uselessly toward her father. But he was too strong, and forcing her away from the door, he managed to reenter the bedroom, close the door behind him, and lock it.

Now the dead man and his son were alone. For a moment, he stood close by the door, staring. He could hear his sister whimpering and sobbing through the door, and eventually he moved away from the noise, walking slowly toward his father. A leg had fallen gracelessly off the bed during the struggle, and the body lay like an enormous stuffed doll, mouth open, limbs akimbo. Roger reached a hand out tentatively, but pulled slowly back; the eyes were still open, staring up at the ceiling. The son reached the bed and stood over the body, his eyes locked on his father's. Then, with an abrupt motion, he reached out and slapped the dead man's face, a brutal strike directly across the cheek. The crack of his hand echoed in the bedroom like a gunshot.

Tractors were running by sunup all over Cheney County the morning Tyler Crandall died; there was rain in the forecast. Kit Munroe, the chief of the Council Grove volunteer fire department, was already out working his fields when his wife received the call. She had to drive a pickup truck twenty minutes across five gated fields to find her husband. Munroe listened quietly, shut the tractor down, and rode back with his wife. He called for some help; Crandall was a big man, and it would take two people to hoist him onto a stretcher. He didn't want the Crandall boy to have to do it.

It was some work getting Ty up off the bed and onto the stretcher with any dignity. Munroe and Carter Dixon wrestled him to the stretcher, lowering it briefly to the floor to rearrange the limbs. Then Munroe pulled a white sheet up over the face and tucked it in over the head. He signaled with a grunt and they heaved the body up, steadying themselves.

It was warming up outside, and Munroe and Carter sweated in the June sun as they hoisted Crandall down the front steps, down the long walkway to the driveway and the car. They loaded him in and Munroe slammed shut the big, swinging back door of the ambulance. The car pulled out into the driveway in a cloud of grit and gravel dust, and was gone.

Roger entered his father's office an hour later. He pulled the big chair back from the ornate desk and sat, feeling his weight in the chair, adjusting its height to fit his own lighter frame. After a moment he took a key from his pocket and unlocked the right bottom drawer of the desk. Inside were a black long-barreled revolver, a half-empty metal flask, and a large manila envelope. He grasped the flask and screwed open the top; sniffing the contents, he took a quick swallow. He was an experienced drinker, and his face was unchanged by the jolt of straight whiskey. He screwed the top back on the flask lightly and returned to the drawer. He removed the envelope, opened it, and pulled out several typewritten pages. He scanned the top page silently, his expression blank. Setting it aside, he picked up the phone and dialed.

Copyright © 2001 by Reed Arvin

What People are saying about this

William Bernhardt
Fast-paced and full of moral complexities, this is a legal thriller no reader of courtroom drama will want to miss. Reed Arvin does a masterful job of examining the lawyer's struggles to retain his values while working in a system at odds with his own integrity.

Meet the Author

Reed Arvin is an award-winning composer and music producer and author of The Wind in the Wheat. The Will is his second novel. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit Reed Arvin on the World Wide Web at

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Will 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree with all the professional and viewer reviews - only more so. Enough cannot be said about a book that I literally picked up for its title and cover. I will be looking for Reed Arvin in the future, and intend now to find his 'The Last Goodbye' hoping that it will be as wonderful as 'The Will.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
And you won't be able to wait to see what happens when the will is read. I was reminded of Grisham's Testament but thought Reed's version more intriguing. The characters are so real, you'll remember them for a long time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once you pick this book up, you will never put it down until the last word on the last page! Characters and descriptions are so precise, and exact, you are drawn into a world that, although you've never been in before, becomes so real to you as you cannot help but be drawn into this new place. Written by one of the greatest new writers, Reed Arvin - you will not be let down in any way!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book you will not be able to put down, there will be no predicting the outcome, and the characters will become as real to you as your own family and friends. Open the cover and you will be swept away with Henry on his quest for truth; were truth is hidden and kept secret, almost untouchable. This novel has a new and fresh approach to mystery, suspence, and drama. It is truly an original and one that everyone should enjoy reading!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has graphic love and sex scenes that don't affect the plot, and large amounts of cursing. It detracts from what could have been an okay book. The plot is decent, but the characters lack depth. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.