Friday, November 13, 2009

Mystery Book Review: The Test by Patricia Gussin

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Test by Patricia Gussin. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Test by Patricia Gussin


Oceanview Publishing (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-933515-19-8 (1933515198)
ISBN-13: 978-1-933515-19-9 (9781933515199)
Publication Date: October 2009
List Price: $25.95

Review: Captivating in its own way, but not a suspense novel or thriller by any conventional definition, Patricia Gussin's The Test will likely be the cause of many lamps burning the midnight oil.

Paul Parnell lived a full life. Head of a major pharmaceutical company, whose life-saving technology won him a Nobel Prize, he amassed a vast fortune during his 75 years. Married twice, with both his wives predeceasing him, he had five children with them ... and a sixth out of wedlock. With only months to live, and convinced that he had spent too little time with his children for them to develop a "code of values", one that includes God, family, community, and profession, he has his lawyers draw up his will such that they will have one year to pass a "test", one administered by the executor of his estate, in order to inherit any of his money. If they fail, their portion will be donated to the Parnell Foundation. The reactions of the siblings -- Frank, a U.S. Senator representing Pennsylvania; Dan, palm tree farmer estranged from the family; Rory, a mother with eight children; Monica Monroe, an entertainment superstar; Ashley, a medical student; and Carla, a design school dropout -- vary dramatically depending on their current circumstances and future plans, and dictate how they go about passing the "test", if indeed they plan on taking it at all.

Though largely a family saga, a literary soap opera if you will, there are some sinister elements in the plot of The Test that add an edge to the story. Not unexpectedly, given some $2 billion is on the table and it isn't clear how one should go about passing an ill-defined test. As Frank says at one point, are Number 2 pencils required, or does proof of good deeds need be submitted? The possibility of one acquiring a serious quantity of money doesn't necessarily bring out the best in people.

The story spans an entire year, and setting it during 2001 -- the year of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC -- adds an interesting twist to the actions of the characters. But what really keeps the reader's attention, and the pages turning late into the night, is the crisp writing, deft handling of the relationships between the family members (and there are a lot; it will help to bookmark the family tree page thoughtfully provided at the beginning), and evolution of the characters from self-centered individuals with single-minded goals to ones that, yes, embrace a family "code of values". The ending of The Test might be a little too pat, but the path there is one worth taking.

Special thanks to Oceanview Publishing for providing a copy of The Test for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): 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.

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