“I couldn’t take my eyes off the casket,” begins Paul Robertson’s debut novel The Heir. “It was expensive and it glowed, resting among the candles and the heaps of flowers. It so perfectly expressed the man inside.”
Death and the man inside (Melvin, the emotionally distant father of Jason Boyer, the "I" of the book) are two elements Robertson uses, along with a school of shark advisors, politicians and journalists, an awed-by-riches wife and younger brother, a charitable family foundation, and a cynical yet idealistic main character to weave this suspense thriller about money, power, corruption, murder and hope.
The white-knuckle plot was a highlight for me. Jason’s chagrin at finding out he’s the main benefactor of his father’s millions soon turns to acceptance. Fred, his father’s right-hand man, pressures him to be quick about filling the power void left by the death of influential Melvin. Then police start snooping around and insinuating that Melvin’s death may not have been an accident after all. There’s another murder. And in just a few weeks Jason has trouble recognizing the person he’s become.
The stakes of keeping all that wealth versus divesting himself of it are high and only raised by the power of the people he will alienate if he does what his gut is telling him to do. Not to speak of how his shopaholic wife Katie will react.
Jason on the lam near the end taxed my credulity, however. He was badly hurt, without food and water, yet like some bionic creation, always had enough in him for yet another chase, yet another showdown. Altogether though, the piling on of trouble and the fact that the reader knows only as much as Jason does, makes for a riveting read.
Robertson’s lean and witty writing style fits the plot well. The story is told in first person through Jason’s intelligent persona and delivered with enough literary razzle dazzle to make it appeal to not only the plot addict but the word junkie as well. For example, note these thoughts of Jason, near the book’s beginning: "Melvin. The name of the deceased hovered in the air for a moment like cigarette smoke, and Nathan Kern’s name was the smell of stale beer that went with it so well."
Later Jason is about to enter an elevator with the corpulent Fred:
- Being in an elevator that was trying to lift Fred Spellman to the top of a forty-two-story building also seemed risky, but I saw no other choice. We entered that little room, its door closed on us, and with a mighty effort it began its labor.
"Do you realize the gravity of the situation?" Fred asked.
That was exactly what I was thinking about except that Fred meant Wilcox.
The book didn’t leave me with any memorable favorites in the character department, however. In fact I didn’t much like any of the characters – including Jason — at the beginning. He grew on me so that in the end, I saw past his egocentricity and his brooding, impetuous personality to the little boy who wanted, above everything else, to have a connection with his dad. Eric, the younger brother, also gained a measure of self-knowledge. I felt the most ambivalent about Jason’s wife Katie who, though beautiful and kind, came across, finally, as shallow.
The themes touched on in this whodunit were somber. Throughout the book Jason wrestles with existential questions like “Why am I here,” and “What is the purpose of my life?” Another of the book’s preoccupations was how money and power affect people. Jason’s search for a connection with his father puts the focus on father-son relationships. Hope and a faith in God are also intimated by Pamela, Jason’s motherly secretary. The sum total is a story that is more than just a light read.
All that to say that when you’re looking for a book to take to the beach or cottage this summer, consider The Heir. But don’t take it alone. Because you’ll finish it way sooner than you wish you had.