ESTATE OF GRACE by James Powers


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Can you make a satisfying surface novel out of nothing more or less than a step-by-step contested case of probate? Probably not--not even if there's some larceny involved--but Powers makes a genial stab at it, trying to liven things up and flesh things out with some gentle satire of crooked and/or pompous lawyers, dumb judges, and court red tape. The estate is that of the late John Grace, an old bird whose last will leaves his farm to young niece Julia but everything else--which amounts to some ten million bucks' worth of mineral fights, etc.--to one Ansel Krueger, an ancient farmhand who is now a paralyzed stroke victim. Niece Julia isn't greedy exactly, but she can't believe Uncle John would do such a thing; so she insists on bringing the case to jury trial, even after a healthy out-of-court settlement is offered to her by Krueger's slimy guardian and by the lawyers for the estate--a staid firm usually represented by gawky, night-law-school grad Tom Parcher (whom the firm hired by mistake but has kept on as a reliable bellwether of ""dumb"" judge reactions). The case is spiced up a bit when Krueger is revealed to have a criminal record--for obtaining property under false pretenses--and when Julia keeps switching lawyers, at one point even engaging Krueger's slimy guardian, an ex-guardian ever since the arrival of the estranged, strange Mrs. Krueger. Eventually the larceny is uncovered, the case is settled, and lawyer Tom and niece Julia--reluctant opponents all along--can settle down to love and marriage. Powers tells all this as jauntily as he can, but the plotting is perforce leisurely and undramatic; and only those readers with a taste for pages of deposition-taking and cross-examination (dry stuff despite Powers' attempts to juice it up) will welcome this pleasantly padded lawyer's anecdote as a substitute for a full-fledged novel.

Pub Date: June 13th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row