Book review: Lynching center of ‘Death in Live Oak’

Oline H. Cogdill
Sun Sentinel
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James Grippando delivers his usual mix of strong fiction based on fact in the engrossing — and unflinching — “A Death in Live Oak,” his 14th novel about Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck.

"A Death in Live Oak" by James Grippando; Harper (HarperCollins)

Grippando has never taken it easy on Jack, who has specialized in proving the innocence of his clients, even those who have been previously convicted. But this case gives him pause. Jack’s father, Harry, asks him to help Mark Towson, the president of a University of Florida fraternity. Mark has been accused of lynching Jamal Cousins, the president of a black fraternity. Jack agrees to look into the case, but decides if he discovers that Mark is guilty, he will drop the case.

While evidence seems to suggest Mark is guilty, Jack begins to believe in his client. Racial tension and violence surround the case, which also brings up memories of a similar lynching from 1944.

“A Death in Live Oak” is a timely look at issues of race and hatred that continue to make headlines. Grippando succinctly parallels the current atmosphere with that of 1944, using a real incident that happened in Live Oak, Florida, 74 years ago. Grippando handles the historical incident with aplomb, never once succumbing to melodrama while showing that history too often repeats itself.

Grippando has built a reputation for action-packed stories and involving stories. While Grippando fills “A Death in Live Oak” with emotion, the plot is overstuffed with villains and publicity seekers and doesn’t delve deep enough into racial tension.


‘A Death in Live Oak’

by James Grippando

Harper (384 pages)



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