"Be careful what you wish for."
The above quote could well be the theme statement for James Grippando's newest thriller, LAST TO DIE. Miami criminal attorney Jack Swyteck is asked to represent his best friend's older brother, Tatum Knight, a former hit man. Swyteck was successful in getting Theo Knight released from death row, serving time for a murder he did not commit.
A beautiful woman named Sally Fenning, who is worth millions of dollars, has tried to hire Tatum to kill her. He refuses her offer, but she soon turns up dead. Tatum is called to the dead woman's attorney's office for a meeting but wants to have his own attorney present. Swyteck accompanies him to a reading of Sally's will. The reading of this document is a life-altering event for those involved.
One of six persons named in the will is going to inherit $46 million. The catch is that the recipient will be the last one of them still living. The unlikely beneficiaries include a former husband, divorce lawyer, female crime reporter, assistant district attorney, Tatum, and a mysterious no-show at the reading named Alan Sirap. Throughout, Grippando develops the cast with believable motives and personalities. Each has a history with the deceased woman that indicates more reason for her hatred than the benefit of her generosity.
Swyteck's involvement takes him from Miami to Africa, where he meets Sally's sister Rene, a medical doctor as beautiful as her dead sibling. His near-romantic entanglements become complicated when he dates a law assistant and mother of his "little brother" Nate. The friendship is threatened when Kelsey divulges information from Swyteck's investigation to determine the guilt or innocence of his client in Sally's death.
One by one, the possible beneficiaries are murdered. Violence, bloodshed and death haunt the remaining ones enough to form alliances to protect themselves and their claims to the inheritance. When clues hint that Tatum is not whitewashed from blame, Swyteck is determined to find the remaining Alan Sirap.
LAST TO DIE is a clever rendering of motives, crimes both past and present, and a shocking resolution to the question of who will receive the millions. Courtroom drama is alive with wit and humor in the scenes when bumbling Gerry Colletti seeks a restraining order against Tatum. Grippando depicts Theo with humor as well and involves his audience with his characters as they wheel and deal their paths to conclusion. Swyteck is as real as the odd assortment he cohabits with on the page.
LAST TO DIE will have a place with most memorable thrillers. I highly recommend it for one who enjoys a great mystery.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 22, 2011