What I've been reading
This is a legal thriller in the potboiling vein of John Grisham, with some very important differences: Grisham can barely string two simple sentences together in a coherent fashion (seriously, the man's prose is awful), while Arvin can actually, you know, write, and this book is much less a thriller than the Grisham books I've read. It stars a lawyer, Henry Mathews, who must go through the same kind of journey we see in several Grisham books (I've only read one, but I've seen the movies): from ambitious and greedy lawyer to conscience-ridden lawyer, but again, it's more nuanced than what you might expect. It's not a great book, by any means, but it's entertaining because Arvin keeps the book out of the courtroom, for the most part, and concentrates instead on the characters in the story.
Henry is a hot-shot Chicago lawyer who one night receives a phone call from a man whose father has died. Henry is the executor of the will, so he must head off to rural Kansas to execute the will. We learn that it's his home town, and his father, an idealistic but dirt poor lawyer, actually handled the will, but died before his client. The dead man was the richest man around, and when he leaves his fortune to the local kook instead of his ambitious and greedy son, the shit hits the fan. Henry gets pulled further and further into the reasons why the old man left his fortune to the crazy guy, and of course, this puts his future as an up-and-coming lawyer in jeopardy, not to mention his relationship with an up-and-coming financial expert.
Fret not, though, because Amanda Ashton, an idealistic government worker, shows up in Henry's life, poking around at the old man's oil reserves and getting in trouble with a state senator because of it. All of this is connected, of course, and Arvin does a nice job making sure it's not too outlandish and conspiratorial, which would be kind of goofy. It's grubby and messy, like a lot of local politics, and even though there's a bit of danger, the real problems lie with uncovering the past, something Henry wants to do when it concerns his client but not when it comes to himself. His secrets are a bit prosaic, but the development of his character, while predictable (will Henry become a crusader who sees more of the law than a way to make a lot of money - you be the judge!), is handled well.
Although not on par with great psychological drama, Arvin does a fine job peeling back the layers of secrecy surrounding these characters and making it feel like he's doing it naturally and in the course of the investigation. It's always interesting reading books in which people are hiding things and the truth has to come out. Henry has to make choices about whose lives he wants to destroy, and they don't always deserve it. This makes the book better than your standard legal thriller, because Arvin does a good job making the characters real, so when the truth comes out, it has a bit more bite to it.
The Will isn't a great book, but it's entertaining. It's not a bad way to spend a few days, which is more than you can say for a lot of novels.