Thursday, March 6, 2014


HARPER (HarperCollins Publishers) – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: James Grippando
ISBN: 978-0-06-210988-0; hardcover (March 4, 2014)
384pp, B&W, $25.99 U.S.

Black Horizon is a 2014 legal thriller and crime fiction novel from author and attorney James Grippando.  Black Horizon is the eleventh novel in a series starring Grippando’s Miami-based, criminal defense attorney, Jack Swyteck.  Black Horizon finds Swyteck in the middle of an international legal battle over a Cuban oil spill that soon turns into an international terrorist conspiracy.

Fifty years from now, it likely that few if any will remember James Grippando as a great American novelist.  This review, however, is about the here and now.  Now, when you pay $26 plus tax for a book, it better be worth your money, and Black Horizon is worth your money and your time.

As Black Horizon opens, Jack is getting ready to marry his longtime fiancé, Andie Henning, who is an undercover agent for the FBI.  The festivities are hampered by the arrival of Hurricane Miguel, but Jack and Andie’s wedding won’t be the only place Miguel causes trouble.

Off the coast of Cuba is the Scarborough 8, the world’s largest oil exploratory rig.  During the storm, there is an explosion on the rig, which sinks the structure.  Now, oil is spilling into the ocean, and an oil slick heads straight for the United States – specifically the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, Jack and Andie’s honeymoon in the Keys ends when Andie is called away on an assignment for the FBI that is shrouded in secrecy.  Jack is asked to represent Bianca Lopez, a Cuban woman who immigrated to America and became a citizen.  Her Cuban husband, Rafael Lopez, was a worker on the Scarborough 8 (a “derrick monkey”), and he was killed in the rig explosion.  Although the explosion occurred in foreign waters (Cuba), Jack files a wrongful death lawsuit in a U.S. court for Bianca.

However, the suit soon clashes with an FBI investigation (in which Andie is apparently involved).  Jack’s longtime friend and cohort, Theo Knight, is implicated in a murder.  And Jack becomes the target of everyone, including the U.S. government, high-powered rival attorneys, and a mysterious figure who claims to know what really happened on the Scarborough 8.

Last year, HarperCollins offered copies of James Grippando’s Blood Money, the tenth Swyteck novel, to book reviewers.  I took a review copy on a lark, and it paid off because Blood Money was a hugely-entertaining read.  When Harper offered Black Horizon, I took it.  I have to admit that I don’t think that it is as good as Blood Money.  Blood Money holds a mirror up to modern American media culture and the reflection reveals something ugly and sad.  That novel also dug deep into the dysfunction of a modern American family, and it the findings were, shall we say, un-pretty.  Black Horizon does not run quite as hot.

Black Horizon is less a legal thriller than it is a political thriller.  In Blood Money, there was real blood and money, and the truth behind the blood money was repulsive, tragic, and made for damn-good reading.  Black Horizon is a murder mystery, complicated by competing and often selfish interests.  It is the legal thriller turned into a small-scale international thriller, filling with conflicts and competing interests.  Grippando cleverly suggests (without actually saying it) that most of the people in this book spend so much time fighting for their own causes that they forget that people actually died in the rig explosion.

Black Horizon gives the reader the thrill of the chase as Jack tries to uncover whodunit in an ever-growing cast of characters with reason to have done it.  I enjoyed the chase, especially the last 50 pages of this book, because Grippando is crafty in the way he finally reveals who, what, when, where, and how.

Last year, I wrote that Blood Money was the beginning of a beautiful reading-list friendship with James Grippando.  Black Horizon makes me keep the friendship alive.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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