In “Twenty,” the newest Jack Swyteck mystery by James Grippando, there are important questions that arise at the very start of this gripping mystery/thriller. Who was the shooter who killed students at the tony private school in Miami? Whoever it was was covered from head to toe: goggles, face mask, tactical vest, even booties covering the shoes. But when one of the students, Xavier Khoury, confesses to the shooting after the gun used was discovered to belong to his father, the community closes ranks against him and his family.
Criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck is married to FBI-agent Andie Henning. Their daughter attends that school. In fact, Andie was at a parent function when the shooting occurred. They were lucky that their daughter’s kindergarten classroom was unharmed. But no one was completely unscathed because classmates, siblings of classmates, friends, and family were traumatized by the slaughter, as are all those involved in this type of horror. Molly Khoury, Xavier’s mother, begs Jack to defend Xavier. He refuses until the father of one of the victims asks him to take the case for a very specific and logical reason.
But there is more to the mass murder than might appear. While Xavier confessed to the crime, and al-Qaeda claims responsibility for it, there is at least one person who says Xavier didn’t do it. There is also a mysterious stray fingerprint on the weapon. And where did the boy get the extended cartridges for the semiautomatic gun? It just doesn’t all add up, and Jack is determined to get answers to his questions.
Soon Jack realizes that he’s in over his head and that those who are intent on prosecuting Xavier, including the Department of Justice, aren’t being completely forthcoming. From the start of the story, we are hooked. We keep reading and reading because we need to find out who is lying, who is at fault, and what really happened on that sunny Florida morning when fourteen children died.
There’s a reason that Grippando is a New York Times bestselling author and has won the Harper Lee prize for legal fiction. Grippando is a trial lawyer in Florida and teaches Law and Literature at the University of Miami School of Law. (Why wasn’t that class offered where I studied law?) Grippando’s writing veritably reeks of authenticity, and the courtroom scenes are perforce believable. Jack’s struggles with what he can and cannot divulge to his FBI wife are also realistic, as is her refusal to share certain information with him. Understandably, it’s a strain on their marriage when she defends justice and rule of law and he defends criminals — only one of whom was definitely innocent.
By the climax, the intrigue and action have become truly engrossing thanks to Grippando’s skill and talent. And while there are well over a dozen previous Jack Swyteck novels, I didn’t feel at all out of the loop for not having read any of them. “Twenty” certainly is a novel that works as a stand alone book, but it also will inspire readers to want to read all the previous books in the series, so be prepared.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.