Fatal Decree

Fatal Decree_HTerrellGriffin_18900237

THEY WILL NEVER HARM ANYONE AGAIN, EVER

4 STARS

The body was just floating slowly down the channel. It was that of a female, middle-aged, blond, naked, shot in the head. The 22-caliber round was still in the brain, a whale-tail earring had been put in the left earlobe, and the initials “KKK” had been cut into the skin just above the nape of the neck. For Longboat Key’s only police detective, Jennifer “J.D.” Duncan, this scenario was identical to three she had investigated peripherally twelve years ago when she was a new detective with the Miami-Dade force. The ritualistic deaths had stopped as quickly as they had started and were, to this point, unsolved.

With the appearance of the body, J.D. finds she has far more problems than the resurgence of a serial killer or his copycat. To begin with, the dead woman is the wife of a newly re-activated agent from the same national security agency that Jock Algren works for. Then, in less than a day, someone tries to murder her. A day later, someone tries to kill Matt Royal, our main protagonist and the man J.D. cares for above anyone else. Then, in short order, there are several more attempts on J.D.’s life and another on Matt’s.

Now, as nasty as all this is, for J.D., it just goes from bad to worse. The body of a second woman, murdered in the same ritualistic manner as the first, is found. And, within hours, the re-activated agent is murdered.

But all these murders and attempted murders are not the “worse.” The overriding problem for J.D. is that the murder of the agent – and the nature of the project on which he had been working – precipitates a direct response from the President. J.D.’s boss is ordered, in the interests of national security, to hand over the investigation to Jock. And this means handing over all the cases – the three murders, the four attempts on J.D.’s life and the three attempts on Matt’s life.

J.D. knows exactly what this means. It means that warrants and normal procedures will not apply. It means that all evidence gathered will most likely be inadmissible at trial. And she knows that she won’t need the evidence anyway since the perpetrators and the masterminds of these crimes will never appear in court. She has seen Jock in action before and she knows.

Thus, when she is put in protective custody against her will and when the law she is sworn to uphold is usurped in favor of black ops, the secondary plot of this novel kicks in. J.D. is already frustrated with island life after years in the lights of Miami. She is also aggravated with the island’s grapevine after years of anonymity in the big city. And she and Matt have been dancing around each other personally for months, both scared to take the next step in their relationship.

At this point, her core belief in the law is in tatters, her cases are in jeopardy and she feels that she is being treated more like a “woman” than a well-armed and well-trained cop. So, reluctantly, she sets the stage with Matt to leave the island – and him – to go back to Miami after Jock is finished killing everybody.

H. Terrell Griffin has written a convoluted tale of double agents, drug cartels, murder for hire and revenge. There are a plethora of secondary characters and it is vitally important to understanding the denouement that the reader keep them straight – the order in which they appear, the order in which they die, who is hired by whom, and who is related to whom and how.

And Griffin has penned a female protagonist that can be respected, even as she wrestles with decisions that may break the heart of the male protagonist we have followed for six books previously. She is not perfect but she does not whine or devolve into irritating self-pity. She argues logically and she plays fair. And she does not try to emotionally manipulate others – particularly Matt. As female leads go these days, she is a breath of fresh air.

Griffin uses three literary tactics that make this novel flow and build seemingly effortlessly and naturally. First is the way he writes his action scenes – and there are a great many of these. He chooses his words carefully and in such a way that their graphic and precise meanings translate into your mind’s eye as if you were viewing the scenes on a screen.

Secondly, while the book is primarily in Matt Royal’s first person POV, the author shifts into third person occasionally to let the reader into the minds of the villains. Griffin also uses this technique to give us, for the first time, a glimpse into Jock’s psyche, while in action and away from Matt. And the author makes these first- to third-person transitions cleanly and clearly so that there is no confusion for the reader as to whose thoughts and actions are in the spotlight.

And thirdly, Griffin uses short chapters so that the reader can conveniently stop and start as chores and sleep intrude on the world that the author has built. Then, Griffin sneaks up on you and, every few chapters, he ends with a paragraph basically saying, “If I had only known then…” So much for doing those chores and grabbing some sleep!

Cover Art from Goodreads

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