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THE CODICIL by Tom Topor: Book Review

A deceased multi-millionaire, his unappealing family, a possible illegitimate child–these are the main ingredients in The Codicil, Tom Topor’s fascinating study of the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

Matt Marshall was a self-made man who became wealthy due to his brains, charm, and business acumen.  He had a beautiful wife, three grown children, and seats on the boards of charities, museums, and hospitals around the country.  But he also had a secret, one which he shared with no one in the over twenty-five years since the war ended.  He believed he had fathered a child with a young Vietnamese woman when he was overseas, while his wife and first-born child were in the United States.

The novel opens as the attorneys for the Marshall family hire Adam Bruno, lawyer turned private investigator, to look into the validity of the will’s codicil made by Marshall three months before his unexpected death; the will itself had been made years before. In the codicil, Matt Marshall stated that while he was in the army in Vietnam, in 1971, he was told that he was the father of a child being carried by a young Vietnamese woman.  Due to the upheavals at the end of the war, the two were separated and never reunited.

Marshall couldn’t find out for certain if the woman, whom he had nicknamed Cricket, gave birth to the child, and he was unable to find out her location or situation after the war.  In the codicil Matthew commanded his family to continue to search for Cricket and/or her child, should there be one.  If a child is found, that child is entitled to half of his estate, and should any of the will’s other recipients challenge this in any way, they would be automatically disinherited.   Quite a codicil.

The very, very wealthy Marshall family, all politeness on the surface, is definitely upset by the fact that they may have to share their father’s $105 million estate with this Asian-American child, assuming that he/she exists.  Although Adam is hired to find the mother and child, it is obvious to him that the Marshalls don’t want to believe in the child’s existence. Or, if Adam discovers there is such a child, the Marshalls don’t want that child found. And really, who can blame them?

New people are introduced throughout the book, men who were with Marshall during the war and four years after it ended when he returned to Vietnam for a final search for Cricket.  Where they are twenty-five years after the war speaks to the horrors they endured, or sometimes caused.  As we know, the men who were “in country” returned to the United States to find a public that was often hostile and/or embarrassed–those who were hostile felt the returning soldiers were “baby-killers”; those who were embarrassed were furious that we had lost the war and the country.

The Codicil is gripping up to and including its final page. But a word of warning–this is not a novel for the faint-of-heart.  There is a lot of profanity, and there are graphic descriptions of wartime atrocities committed by both sides.  It’s a book that brings the pain of the Vietnam War back again.

Tom Topor is the author of several screenplays.  You can read more about him at this web site.