ALWAYS FOLLOW THE MONEY
Within the first few pages of this 6th novel in the Matt Royal series, five people are murdered. Four are killed in one single day in the Longboat Key area – a bridegroom of one day gunned down on the beach by a sniper, the captain of a dinner cruise boat whose neck is broken during the evening’s sail, and a lawyer and a college student who are both knifed and thrown overboard as the boat runs aground. And then there’s the mechanic, 22 years old, gunned down about the same time in a small town in North Dakota, which, by the way, the Longboat Key police do not know about – yet.
Six weeks later, with no clues whatsoever as to the identities or motives of the killers and with no apparent connection between the victims, the police on Longboat Key are at a standstill. Now our main protagonist, Matt Royal, is not a cop nor a PI, but a retired attorney. He likes being retired and, even though two of his good friends are the Chief of Police and the lead detective, he lets them do their job while he does his – fishing and socializing. Then the bridegroom’s father shows up and turns out to be the medic who had saved Matt’s life once upon a time back in Vietnam. So when Charles “Doc” Desmond asks for Matt’s help in the stalled investigation, Matt readily agrees.
Needing to begin somewhere, Matt starts with three interviews. The first is with J. D. Duncan, the lead homicide detective on the case. Using his interrogative skills from his past profession and his Special Forces military skills, he leads J. D. to the existence of a back-up sniper, a hit team instead of a single shooter. His second interview is with the bride, who relates to Matt the details of the couple’s initial courtship in Laos while building a school through a charitable foundation. So Matt makes his third interview with the head of the Otto Foundation, a group that builds schools all over Southeast Asia.
The next morning, while on his daily jog down the beach, Matt is assaulted by a man with a Ka-Bar. Matt breaks the man’s elbow and has the knife at the man’s carotid artery when a woman with a gun descends the walkway. Apparently, the woman wants her partner back more than she wants to kill Matt, so they affect an exchange, one life for another. And Matt now has his first real clue in the case – the assault team is Asian. He figures his visit to the Otto Foundation tripped some wires involving national security and/or international covert dealings and that prompts him to call in Jock Algren for help.
H. Terrell Griffin writes characters who, while not your average worker-bees, are not super-endowed physically or mentally either. They are, however, above average in intelligence and well trained in the art of observation, strategy and warfare. They are not above lies, deceptions and threats to get results, but, essentially, Matt, J. D. And Logan color inside the lines until they can’t and still remain alive. Then they call in Jock Algren, who has the Federal authority to color any way he wants to.
In this novel, Griffin does something different from his previous works. He occasionally steps out of his normal first-person POV of Matt, and allows the reader to be omniscient in one area. We, as readers, know about the death of the young mechanic in North Dakota, while Matt’s team does not. As the storyline progresses, we are also witness to the murders of a young male law student in Birmingham and a newly minted female JAG lawyer in Charlottesville. Again, Matt’s team is ignorant of those deaths. But, the reader, by carefully perusing through these vignettes, is provided a thread that ties these young people together with those murdered in Longboat Key, even though they themselves have never met.
With this slim thread, we can evaluate the facts that Matt and his team uncover differently than they. Thus, I was able to figure out the identities of the real targets – remember, the title of the book is “Collateral Damage” – but I couldn’t figure out who was behind it or the real reason why.
Actually, there turned out to be an author-induced reason for that and I dropped the rating on this book one star because of it. A large part of the storyline has to do with finances and banks since a charitable foundation is involved. While Griffin has the character of Jock pull deep background checks on several people, including the director of the charity, he does not have Jock pull a background check on everyone who had access to the money or the accounting program. And we all know the two cardinal rules of investigation – follow the family members of the victim and follow the money.
Had Griffin let his characters do a better job on these basics, the murders would have been solved a lot earlier and without quite as many assaults and near-misses with death. But then again, I have to admit, that would have made the novel at least a hundred pages shorter and incredibly boring!
Cover Art by Goodreads