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A Death in Live Oak: A Jack Swyteck Novel


A Death in Live Oak: A Jack Swyteck Novel

Jack Swyteck, known to readers as a fearless defender of the underdog, challenges a community stunned by the vicious murder of a popular athlete and president of one of the top black fraternities at the University of Florida. Mark Towson, president of an equally prestigious white fraternity, is arrested for the murder based on a tweeted warning to the victim from Towson’s phone. The body of Jamal Cousin was discovered bound, gagged and hung from a tree in a nearby swamp, reminiscent of the 1955 lynching of African American teenager Emmett Till. Jack is retained by an old college friend to defend his son in the face of irrefutable evidence.

A DEATH IN LIVE OAK explores themes that pick at the scabs of scars that most Americans hope have faded into history. “Strange fruit” is used in the threatening text message, which falls on the deaf ears of millennial college kids. None have heard the arcane term, let alone know that it came from a 1930s-era song made famous by Billie Holiday, a name with which they are not familiar. But Jamal’s death brings back into focus the brutal activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the mid-20th century.

"Grippando is a well-grounded defense attorney and no stranger to the courtroom that he brings to life on the page."

While the campus erupts in violence and the national press descends, Jack is pressed to dig into every exploratory trick in his bag to get to the bottom of a situation that is rapidly growing out of control.

Another era is invoked as an elderly white former socialite reflects on her life and the results of the bigotry that haunt her to her dying days. Grippando skillfully weaves the threads of these history-altering events into a gripping thriller that keeps us guessing straight to the end. And, surprising to this northerner, I was not aware that racially divided Greek houses still exist. I am decades from campus activities and have never lived in the South, so I had to look this up, thinking they were fictional.

James Grippando is an author name I had come across but overlooked. I had no good reason for this; I had just been sticking with my old gang of favorites, too lazy to take a shot at someone new. But after 20+ years of reviewing books, you find that many of these writers are as tired as you are, so you get brave, strike out and look for fresh faces. Sometimes you get lucky. Flipping through Grippando’s backlist, I saw that he’s been around long enough to have hit the bestseller lists with 13 Jack Swyteck thrillers, as well as several others. I figured he must be worth a look.

Grippando is a well-grounded defense attorney and no stranger to the courtroom that he brings to life on the page. A DEATH IN LIVE OAK is not an endless discourse of courtroom drama, droning on with cross-examinations, objections and gavel-banging judges. Yes, there is a cliffhanger of a trial in the end --- there must be a conclusion --- but we are saved the Perry Mason theatrics. There is much to look forward to for this newcomer. For instance, catching up on the backstory of Jack’s fascinating FBI undercover wife and their complicated relationship. So, THE PARDON (the first book in the series), here I come.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on March 2, 2018

A Death in Live Oak: A Jack Swyteck Novel
by James Grippando

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 006265781X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062657817