Book Review: Twenty by James Grippando
By Ray PalenJanuary 21, 2021
In the latest in James Grippando’s Jack Swyteck series, Jack and his family are caught in the crossfire after a deadly school shooting—Florida’s fifth mass shooting in as many years.
The title of the latest novel by Miami author James Grippando, Twenty, can be a bit confusing. This is his twenty-ninth novel and the seventeenth in the Attorney Jack Swyteck series. The symbolism of the number twenty is a mind-blowing one and I will keep that spoiler under wraps in this review.
Tragically, this novel does start off with a bang. Attorney Jack Swyteck’s wife Andie, an Agent of the FBI, is taking place in a parent-teacher presentation at the Rec Room of her Kindergarten daughter Righley’s school, Riverside Day School in Miami, FL. While interacting with the Principal and other parents a pop, pop, pop is heard somewhere in the hallway. What follows is one of the most terrifying and suspenseful bits you will read in current fiction as a single shooter with a dangerous firearm has pulled the school fire alarm to get students and teachers to all exit their rooms making them targets as he then opens fire upon them.
Andie was off-duty and therefore unarmed so she goes purely on instinct. She exits the Rec Room and heads in the direction of her daughter’s Kindergarten class. All she can arm herself with is a fire extinguisher. She does manage to get a hold of Righly, but does not have an opportunity to stop the shooter who ends up shooting thirty people, fourteen of which are fatal. When Jack Swyteck hears of a shooter on campus alert for his child’s school, he fights his way through the crowd to his family. The shooter is not found or taken down by the S.W.A.T. Team and FBI Agents who arrive at the school. The immediate word is that the gun which was found is registered to a man with a middle eastern name. To make matters worse, that name is Amir Khoury the Muslim husband of one of Andie’s best friends and another school parent, Molly.
When the police arrive at the Khoury’s home and surround an incoming vehicle driven by Molly and containing her three children they are met by rifles in the face. Before things escalate, Molly’s eighteen-year-old son Xavier shouts out that he did it. In the wake of this tragedy, the Khoury family asks if Jack, a defense attorney, would stand up for Xavier. He does not immediately accept as he knows how this would look to the other parents as well as the Riverside School. However, when Jack speaks up at the initial hearing for Xavier, he ends up getting ‘assigned’ the job of his attorney by the judge.
The whole situation quickly becomes nightmarish for all involved. Andie is questioned directly by other parents at a group meeting about why she did not do more. She and Jack end up getting sued by the school and their child must be pulled out and placed in another school. The Khoury’s are at each other’s throats, as Amir demands to be treated like an American citizen and not as a Muslim who has had nothing but problems in his own country since 9/11. Also, Xavier refuses to say a single word to Jack whenever he meets with him in prison, just head nods. Jack and his colleague, Theo, must depend on what they can dig up themselves. It is only when they find a Latino girl named Maritza, who claims to be Xavier’s girlfriend, that they finally find someone who can provide info on his state of mind. When she also provides an alibi for Xavier, claiming he could not have been at the school at the time of the shooting, Jack must try his best to get the death penalty-loving Prosecutor to provide more time for the defense.
Twenty really moves at a breakneck pace. Jack resorts to hypnosis and a lie detector test to get something out of Xavier. Meanwhile, Jack and Andie’s individual pursuit of the truth ends up opening a long-standing federal investigation that knew about this threat as well as rumored upcoming school shootings. What begins as a thriller and then moves into a legal novel, devolves into a full-blown espionage story that calls to mind the work of Brad Thor, among others. As I mentioned at the beginning, when the significance of the number twenty is finally revealed it will send chills down your spine and you will soon realize that this is unlike any other Jack Swyteck novel to date.