Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review: A Death in Live Oak by Jack Swyteck

A Death in Live Oak (Jack Swyteck, Book #14)
by James Grippando
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 Harper
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062657824
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When the body of Jamal Cousin, president of the pre-eminent black fraternity at the Florida's flagship university, is discovered hogtied in the Stygian water swamps of the Suwanee River Valley, the death sets off a firestorm that threatens to rage out of control when a fellow student, Mark Towson, the president of a prominent white fraternity, is accused of the crime.

Contending with rising political tensions, racial unrest, and a sensational media, Towson’s defense attorney, Jack Swyteck, knows that the stakes could not be higher—inside or outside the old Suwanee County Couthouse.  The evidence against his client, which includes a threatening text message referencing "strange fruit" on the river, seems overwhelming. Then Jack gets a break that could turn the case. Jamal's gruesome murder bears disturbing similarities to another lynching that occurred back in the Jim Crow days of 1944. Are the chilling parallels purely coincidental? With a community in chaos and a young man’s life in jeopardy, Jack will use every resource to find out.

My Thoughts
A Death in Live Oak is the fourteenth book in the Jack Swyteck series and I thoroughly enjoyed this entry into this series.  Sometimes in a series as long as this one, you get that book that doesn't quite fit into the series and wonder if the series is starting to go downhill, but this hasn't happened yet with Jack and company and I am so glad.  And what's even better, if you haven't read any of the previous books, reading this one doesn't depend on reading any of the previous ones - you can just jump right in and read the others at your leisure.

Now the topic is quite a controversial one and I was actually surprised the author decided to tackle such a sensitive issue as racism in the south, but he definitely did it remarquably well.  The novel deals with historical lynching, racial tensions on university and college campuses, and the after-effects when a white student (Mark Towson, the president of a famous white fraternity) is accused of murdering a black student (Jamal Cousin, the president of a black fraternity).  And all hell breaks loose, literally.  I do have to say I felt sorry for Mark as he was hounded by a lawyer famous for winning cases based on racism, someone who was definitely looking to make this case look like it was only something to do with racism.  And it certainly didn't help when it was discovered that Mark's phone contained incriminating text messages against Jamal.  I liked Mark as a character and liked his perplexity in the face of being slammed with racist charges and his responses to all of the claims.  I'm not sure how I would have reacted, but I don't think I would have handled it as well as he did.  It's really hard to say much more without giving away more of the plot, but it was definitely difficult to read the scenes where Mark has to face the university council to decide his fate and their reaction to his charges.  

Jack was a bit reluctant to get involved as he knew how badly it could blow up in his face, but his dad was a good friend to Mark's dad and he found it difficult to diplomatically refuse the offer to defend Mark.  Getting caught up in the ever-increasing violence on campus and elsewhere, Jack became very conflicted over the case and was worried about his own family, especially when some of the violence actually did reach his front door.   I felt very sympathetic towards Jack and really had no idea how I would have dealt with such a delicate situation - one the one hand you don't want to let a friend of your dad's down in such a serious situation, but on the other, you own family's safety comes first. 

The plot moved rather quickly and there was a lot going on.  And while there is typically not a lot of horror in these books, the descriptions are enough to make you realize that Jamal's death was quite a painful one; who would actually do that to another person?  Although I did figure out who it was, there were quite a few red herrings that did make me wonder if I was right and I did second-guess myself a few times.  I think having read all of this author's previous books helped as I was familiar with his writing style.  The only thing I wasn't crazy about was Andie's story line although it did fit in quite nicely with Jack's, and I think that's why I didn't like it - it was too nicely and neatly done.  If the author was looking to find a way to get Andie into the story, I really think it could have been done differently as it just felt...wrong.  I can't explain it other than that it jarred with the rest of the story.  I would think that a group as organized as that would know who Jack's wife was, that's all I'm saying. When something feels fake and contrived, it's usually because it is.  I really think the author should have included more about Theo and Jack and how they would have interpreted the events in the story, and left Andie out of it this time.  There was really no reason to have her involved this time round.

A Death in Live Oak certainly makes you think, and the author is definitely not one to turn away from controversy or difficult topics, but I do think he handled it quite well.  The writing was fast-paced and I had a hard time putting down the book.  I think including Theo a lot of more and his reactions to the events and the development of Jack and Theo's friendship would have been a great addition to this book, and so much more relevant than Andie's involvement, which kind of lowered the overall rating for me.  That being said, I love this author and can't wait to see what his comes up with next.  I highly recommend you start this series from the beginning and enjoy each book. So much fun!!