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Last Call (book review)

March 3, 2008

Gangland suspense is a riveting read.

Last Call
James Grippando
HarperCollins 326 pp., $24.95

Reviewed by Elizabeth Willse for the Star-Ledger, March 2, 2008
426 words

Set against the backdrop of urban Miami, “Last Call” is a tale of redemption, an innocent man clearing his name. It is the story of an unlikely friendship, between criminal defense attorney Jack Swytek and a former client, Theo Knight. It is a grisly novel, vivid with detail about gang initiations and violent crime.
More than the sum of these parts, though, it is a riveting read, a mystery full of surprising turns.
Once an inmate on death row, Knight’s sentence has been overturned, and he now runs a bar called Sparky’s. He stays in touch with his former lawyer, Swytek, out of friendship rather than legal need. His bar’s doing well enough for him to think about opening a jazz club, he’s got a gorgeous girlfriend, and Uncle Cy, who raised him, is in ex cellent health.
Into this story of inner city boy making good plunges Isaac Reems, former gang member and escapee from prison. Threatening Knight with Knight’s own gun, Reems is a danger to the new life Knight has made for himself. It could be straightforward blackmail, but that’s when things start to get interesting.
What works best about “Last Call” is the element of surprise. Reems’ escape from prison and his threats to Knight’s new life are not surprising to the savvy reader of crime novels. However, Reems serves as a catalyst for a series of much larger questions.
Questions about corruption in prison, gang rivalries, and even the unsolved murder of Knight’s mother come to light. Working together with Swytek’s former flame, FBI agent Andie Henning, Swytek and Knight begin to uncover the possibility that something in the hands of much more powerful people is at work. And the closer they get to real answers, the more those powerful people work to stop them.
Who can they trust? Untangling the conspiracies keeps the characters — and the reader — guessing.
Another strength of Grippan do’s latest novel is the complexity of the characters. This is the seventh in his Jack Swytek series. His friendship with Theo Knight emerged in the second book, “Last To Die” (HarperCollins 2003). Al though Swytek, Knight, and a few other characters in their circle were introduced in previous books, a reader starting with “Last Call” will get to know them quickly. The humorous banter between Swytek and Knight is great fun, and provides a welcome relief from the ten sion and stark violence of some of the scenes that depict gang life.
Many of Grippando’s fans will come to his latest looking for the lawyer-turned-author to delve into the complexities of the legalsystem. The tension that drives this novel is largely focused outside the courtroom. “Last Call” will intrigue loyal fans and new readers alike, and invite them to read more of Swytek’s adventures.

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