Vindication: H. Terrell Griffin
Belonging to a book club can be hazardous to your health as Esther Higgins learns. Writing and allowing your members to critique your work should yield both positive and negative responses. But, Esther’s work was first rate but was told by her so called friend, Ruth Bergstrom, who read her manuscript and told her it was not publishable but in reality it was quite good so how did it wind up in the hands of someone else?
The novel begins with a short chapter that tells us about the Miss Georgia beauty pageant, the contestants and a young girl named Sarah who was the frontrunner but lost. Sarah’s mother could not afford to send her to college and if she had won the title her life would have turned out differently. But, the pageant was fixed and a horrible lie was told and a girl named Polly Norris took the title but only years later would Sally know the hidden truth behind the lie that was told about her.
Matt Royal is a defense lawyer living in Longboat Key and dating Detective J.D. Duncan whose aunt is Esther Higgins and has been charged with the murder of Olivia Lathom. Esther lives in an area called The Villages, which is in Florida and Olivia Lathom’s dead body was found or dumped at the Villages’ Paddock Square. Lathom was said to have written a first rate novel right after Ruth Bergstrom sent Aunt Esther’s unpublished manuscript to her. J.D. is angry and realizes that her aunt has been framed, never met Olivia, never knew she was in town for a signing and she never attended any of the book club meetings so why did she get arrested? Upon looking into the murder scene there was no blood in her house, no items that would incriminate her at the scene where the body was found but when the police searched her house they found the murder weapon a 22-caliber gun.
J.D. is worried about her aunt and decides to take time off from the force where she works and goes undercover at the local bookstore hoping to get invited to join the club and question the members, namely Ruth. Reinventing her name as Jade Conway and then changing her identity she takes a bold chance at hoping to find the real killer. Matt however had a negative experience with the Sumter County Sheriff, which might hamper his ability to question his men and get Aunt Esther the justice she deserves. Meredith Evans is the prosecutor and wants bail denied. Just what would Matt do in this case. But, he’s smart, astute and has it all worked out in his mind while trying to learn more about Olivia whose name and prints are not in any database. Just who is or was Olivia? Working many angles and learning some from his friend Jock whose got military training and access to databases that no one else has, he might learn more about Olivia and with the help of a young man named Will we learn more. Sheriff Black investigated the case of someone named Danny Lathom, Olivia’s stepson wondering till this day if his new wife murdered him for the money he had and only one month after their shotgun wedding. But, there’s more as we meet Grace Hanna another victim of circumstances who happens to be the mother of Danny’s only child Josh who is in the army and cannot be found at this time.
As Matt questions Esther he learns just how her prints got on the murder weapon, someone that came to her asking about how to shoot and use a gun that would later prove to be setting her up for the arrest and the murder. So, how does this tie to Sally and the pageant? Jock Algren spent some days lounging on Matt’s patio but his main job was being recruited into America’s most secretive clandestine agency. He had undergone a year of intensive training and was sent into the field as a spy or even assassin. So, when Matt learns about two brothers Chunk and Biggun the scenes with both Jock and Matt are hilarious but the point gets through. Needing his help to learn more about Olivia Lathom and Ruth Bergstrom would fall on one of his computer techs. Ruth has her own checkered past and her husband James McNeil would provide some interesting incite into Ruth her relationship with Olivia and another person named Kelly who would each play vital roles when the final reveal takes place. Kelly and J.D. have a food and drinking lunch and J.D. senses something about her that might lead her to learning more about Olivia. Beholden is the title of the book in question and as she speaks to Ruth you realize that she is trying to show some empathy for Olivia and the fact that Olivia promised Ruth money from the book since she was the reason she got it in the first place.
Esther made a slip when it came to Olivia and a simple off the cuff remark out of anger, her prints on the gun helped get her arrested. The 22-caliber Smith and Wesson model 67 revolver was the murder weapon that Esther had in her home but why? Courtroom scenes are well planned out and seriously well orchestrated from asking to table his opening statement until the trial to dealing with the investigators, other police and sheriff departments and explaining why something would be considered work product and the trial terminologies and format.
The story is told in the first person by Matt and at times in third person to hear the voices of the other characters as the plot unfolds, the evidence comes in and Matt’s strategy for unraveling the truth is right out of an episode of Criminal Minds where one person, the computer tech finds the information, delivers it and the takedown happens or a great Law and Order when the right lawyers are in place. Using Matt to deliver the suspense and help us see what is going to occur during the trial, his way of letting readers know his thinking and then the third person gives us a front row seat to upcoming events and character actions. Esther is tough and presents a rough exterior and will not even think plea bargain and wants her name cleared. If she loses and has to do jail time it’s better than taking some deal that would put her there anyway. Charles Lathom is Danny’s brother and tells all to Matt as he reveals information about Olivia and we learn more about Grace and her regrets. But, when we meet Lionel and Biggun his brother who try to strong arm Matt by threatening him if he does not back off the case because someone close to them would go to jail, we realize the lengths to which someone will go to keep Esther in jail.
The trial is quite revealing and the prosecutor and Matt go head to head but when he pulls his final reveal the reader realizes that he is one smart lawyer that you want on your side because he just won’t give up until he wins. Jeff Carpenter is a doctor that he defended when he was accused of murder yet it was what you call a mercy killing and when we meet him finally at the end we realize what he did was understandable and glad he got off.
The final reveal at the trial will shock readers and the murderer never expects who would give the identity up. Someone will pay for the murder; will Esther will in the end and go free? Someone is crafty and gets away which leads this reviewer to think that Matt Royal just might want to go after one player that managed to get away after testifying. To vindicate someone’s honor, to justify that they did not commit at crime, to clear someone of an accusation, or action: Will Esther’s vindication finally happen after all of the evidence is presented? Will she receive vindication after the trial or will she be found guilty as charged? Find out when you read this outstanding Matt Royal novel.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine