After a promising start, Grippando’s eighth thriller—about an insurance scam and the Russian Mafia—stalls at midpoint and never recharges.
Grippando (A King’s Ransom, 2001, etc.) begins as confidently as Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck (last seen in The Pardon, 1994) strides from a courtroom where he has just won a case. Jack’s former girlfriend Jessie Merrill had sold her three million-dollar insurance policy for half that amount to a firm named Viatical Solutions. Jessie had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and given a short time to live. But her doctor later said his diagnosis was wrong, and that healthy Jessie was unlikely to die anytime soon. Viatical sued to retrieve its investment and lost. But after the verdict comes down, Jack suspects that Jessie and her doctor had scammed Viatical with fake records. And he’s right—as Jessie brazenly tells him, her revenge over their break-up now complete. Then someone works revenge on Jessie: she turns up dead in Jack’s bathtub in a pool of blood, wrists slashed. Grippando now works many intriguing angles: Did Jack kill Jessie? Did Jessie kill herself? Why did Jessie deposit her take from the case in an account under her name and Jack’s? Is someone from Viatical the culprit? Jack digs into the latter possibility to save his hide and to shore up his shaky marriage with wife Cindy. Therein begins the drag. Cindy remains in numbing stasis, her conversations with Jack moving in wearying circles. Likewise, Jack’s probe of Viatical keeps meeting itself coming around to the same question: Did someone from this front for the Russian mob kill Jessica? Intriguing, but hardly riveting when pushed uphill by flat characters—save for blunt, funny Theo, Jack’s ex-con friend, who steals the few scenes Grippando gives him.
Questions compel, characters don’t. Give Theo the next case.