“Blood Money” by James Grippando (Harper, $26.99)
“Ripped from the headlines” is an apt term for Florida author James Grippando’s 10th exciting legal thriller featuring Miami attorney Jack Swyteck.
Floridians — as well as the rest of the nation — will recognize the Casey Anthony case as the inspiration for the meticulously plotted “Blood Money.” Readers will recognize several similarities from the Anthony case, as Grippando spins “Blood Money” into an intriguing look at the media, vengeance-seeking crusaders and our perception of defendants and their attorneys.
Jack has just won an acquittal for his client, Sydney Bennett, a young nightclub waitress accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter. But it is not a victory Jack celebrates. The case had become “a pop-culture juggernaut,” bringing an onslaught of hate mail and demonstrations and relentless coverage from Faith Corsco at the BNN cable news company. Jack had never even wanted the case, agreeing to fill in for a friend whose death after the first hearing left Jack the “attorney of record.” And there was Sydney herself — a self-centered, immature, money-grubbing woman given to tantrums — whom Jack disliked.
While the mob was kept outside the courtroom, Sydney’s release sets off a frenzy with even more demonstrators and one-sided coverage by Faith, a Nancy Grace clone.
The crowd is revved up by Faith’s rumors that Sydney may be taking “blood money” for a movie or book deal. During the fracas outside the women’s detention center, Celeste Laramore, a young college student who has just come from a Sydney Bennett look-alike contest at a South Beach bar, is assaulted so violently she ends up in a coma. Jack also is attacked and receives escalating threats that are increasingly more personal. Agreeing to represent Celeste’s distraught parents, Jack begins to take another look at Sydney’s case and what didn’t come out during the course of his defense.
Grippando continues to look more deeply into the psyche of Jack Swyteck, the author’s go-to character since he first appeared in “The Pardon” in 1994. While part of Jack hates the attention this case has brought, he also is forced to realize that handling unpopular cases are what he does best. His deepening relationship with an FBI agent, Andie Henning, and his friendship with bar owner and former client, Theo Knight, keep Jack grounded.