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Trouble in paradise
on November 28, 2011
Trouble surrounds Matt Royal despite his residence in paradise. It seems that Florida's Longboat Key isn't paradisiacal for everyone. A young man is shot by a sniper while he's walking on the beach near the Hilton, just a day after his wedding. Then a dinner boat runs aground after nearly colliding with Royal's boat. Then the bodies of two more murder victims are discovered, both of whom had been passengers on the dinner boat. When a town resident is killed, it looks like a serial killer has invaded paradise. The killings aren't connected in any obvious way, leaving Royal's friend, Detective J.D. Duncan, without any obvious hope of solving the crimes. Then a former soldier from Royal's past shows up, the father of one of the victims, and Royal joins the search for the elusive killer. Every now and then another death occurs, leaving the reader, like Royal, to puzzle out the connection that links the murders.
Some aspects of the plot are hard to accept. Royal is a retired lawyer. The victim's father wants Royal to start a lawsuit -- against whom, he's not sure -- to help gather information against the murderer of his son. I found it difficult to believe that the police would willingly hand over their investigative file to him; giving open files concerning recent unsolved murders to private lawyers just isn't done. If you can suspend your disbelief in that regard, however, the story that follows is entertaining. It isn't particularly credible but that's standard for a thriller, and it's not much more difficult to believe than some newspaper stories.
The need to suspend disbelief isn't limited to the plot. One of the characters -- a waitress -- is the typical part-time computer hacker; a couple of community college computer courses and she can hack into airline and bank records, not to mention databases maintained by rental car, credit card, and telephone companies. Another character works for a double secret American intelligence agency. Royal's convenient friendships with people who can instantly access any information he needs is good for plot development but not so good for verisimilitude.
The investigation sends Royal down several blind alleys, all in a reasonably effective attempt to keep the reader guessing. An interesting plot twist occurs when Royal begins to wonder whether he can trust the quasi-romantic interest in his life. The solution to the complex puzzle -- the link that binds the murders -- is interesting although I had the feeling I was reading plotlines recycled from other thrillers and mashed together in an attempt to create something new.
Although Royal engages in the occasional episode of hand-to-hand combat, he has a more fully developed personality than the standard tough guy character. Someone during the course of the novel accuses Royal of being a philosopher. He's no Aristotle, but he's capable of subtle thought, a trait often lacking in fictional tough guys. All the characters -- even the minor ones -- are refreshingly intelligent.
H. Terrell Griffin writes vividly, if not originally, about Royal's service as a Green Beret in Vietnam. His writing style in general is fluid, tight, and cliché-free. He blends action and exposition effectively, although the story is a bit exposition-heavy toward the end.
Collateral Damage is the sixth Matt Royal novel but the first I've read. It likely won't be the last.