THE PRICE WE PAY
This is the 3rd book in the Matt Royal series, following “Murder Key,” and I do not consider it a standalone. The backstories of each major player are already in place and are only barely touched upon in this novel. Also, Matt Royal’s emotional make-up was heavily developed in the first two novels and that knowledge is essential to this story line.
The story opens about 6 months after the conclusion of the previous novel. Matt is visiting at a friend’s animal rescue preserve when he finds a male’s mutilated body in the vulture pit. A day later, his ex-wife of 10 years, Laura, comes in from Atlanta asking Matt for his help in locating her stepdaughter. This stepdaughter, a college dropout and recreational druggie, was last seen in Matt’s town of Longboat Key, Florida, and has not been heard from in several weeks.
It takes less than a day for Matt and Logan Hamilton to get a lead on the girl, question the lead and get shot at on the way home. Two more leads, two more attempts on their lives, and a death at each scene gives Matt the idea that they are on to something far more problematic than a teenage runaway. And then Laura goes missing, also.
Before the story is finished, the clues and bodies will lead Matt, Logan and Jock Algren from Longboat Key to Sarasota to Tampa to Key West and to Blood Island. Those same leads and bodies will wind the team and the reader through seedy bars, religious cults, whorehouses (sorry – upscale massage spas) and a cartel kingpin’s home.
In fact, that most helpful cartel kingpin and his minions provide a serious contrast in this story. They are physically fit, of course, and are definitely serious players in the drug world. But, for them, it is just a business, not a psychosis or an addiction, and they are the most intelligent, the most respectful and the least caricature-like gangsters I have experienced in my reading for a while. In fact, by the end of the story, the phrase “Hold, please.” will probably never mean the same thing to you again.
Griffin tells a fine tale and, for the most part, he weaves a logical story. It is clear that he has researched and plotted the scenes carefully, eliminating illogical and unreasonable steps in the action sequences. And Griffin writes action scenes that rely on planning, adrenaline, reflex and muscle memory instead of coincidence and alpha tendencies. He allows Matt to make mistakes, but he has Matt acknowledge and process those mistakes and their consequences. He has Matt acknowledge and fight fear, the fear of being killed and the fear that he will never see Laura alive again. Just as importantly, Griffin makes sure that all is explained in the end, how everyone and everything ties together.
As much as I enjoyed the book, Griffin appears to have a harder time with weaving personal plot threads than with setting up action threads. And two instances of this caused me to downgrade my rating. First, there is absolutely no mention of Matt’s girlfriend from the first two books, Anne Dubose, a relationship that was still present, if a bit tenuous, at the end of the last novel. There were several golden opportunities for this relationship to be mentioned. But it wasn’t and its absence is glaring in the light of the content of several of Matt’s internal monologues concerning Laura.
Secondly, the author’s set-up of the “Laura” storyline fails the basic tenets of plausibility. Now the original information is fine – Laura meets with Matt but goes missing two days later, leaving ID and phone at home. Since the stepdaughter is also missing, the reader is led to believe there might be a connection. But as the novel progresses, things that Griffin writes about her disappearance just don’t add up logically, not the police response or the actions of the husband, who is a doctor.
And when she is found in a hospital several days later, dying of a virulent and terminal disease that she has told no one about, the plausibility factor hits zero. First, Griffin’s initial physical description of her specifically portrays beauty, strength and agility with no evidence of any illness, let alone a terminal one. And secondly, Griffin makes it seem as if her husband, a doctor, had no clue she was even tired, let alone terminally ill. Then when she dramatically re-surfaces from a coma, makes her peace with all and dies a day later, my suspension of disbelief just leaped right over the proverbial cliff.
Plausibly written or not, I feel that I know why Griffin needed the “Laura” story and the “Anne” non-existence. I think he wanted an intense emotional shove to couple with the violence that Matt had to resort to so that Matt could grow in the series. And I quote:
“I did what was necessary, and I know I would do it again…I didn’t think I’d ever have the same benign view of myself again. It was like losing a close friend. The Matt Royal I knew, the fun-loving beach bum lawyer, had died over the past few days, and had been replaced by a monster who was perfectly willing to shoot and stab people. I wondered if I’d ever find my old self again. I was glad Laura would never have to know this new version of the man she’d loved when she was young.”
Cover Art from Goodreads