What the Heck Kind of Name is THAT?
What's it like to be Miami criminal defense attorney Jack Swyteck? Simply imagine that your father is Florida's governor, your best friend was once on death row, and your love life could fill an entire chapter in Cupid's Rules of Love and War (Idiot's Edition). Throw in an indictment for murder and a litany of lesser charges that could easily get a lawyer disbarred, and believe it or not, you're only scratching the surface.
Readers first met Jack Swyteck in my 1994 debut legal thrill, The Pardon, where Jack was a young lawyer defending death row inmates, and where he learned such important personal lessons as "there is no line more palpable than the one that runs down the middle of the bed." If you will pardon (no pun intended) a little psychoanalysis, Jack's women troubles are probably rooted in his boyhood. His Cuban-American mother died in childbirth, so he was raised by a politically ambitious father and alcoholic stepmother. On the lighter side, Jack was a half-Cuban boy in a completely Anglo home with no link to Cuban culture, a surefire recipe for a lifetime of comedic misunderstandings. Take his Spanish, for example. To the outside world, he is pure gringo, and anyone who hears him try to speak Spanish invariably has the same reaction:
Wow, Jack, your Spanish is really good.
My mother was Cuban.
Wow, Jack, your Spanish really sucks.
It's all how you look at it.
Beyond Suspicion, the second novel in the series, introduces two very important people in Jack's life -- his abuela (his maternal grandmother), and his best friend, Theo Knight. Jack adores Abuela, though her habit of calling Cuban talk radio and identifying herself as Jack's grandmother drives him crazy. Her antics are benign, however, compared to the storms kicked up by Theo the not-so-white Knight. Of all the death row inmates Jack represented, only Theo was truly innocent -- though as you'll see in Last to Die, anyone with a hit man for a brother can't be squeaky clean. Theo is Jack's investigator, bartender, best friend, confidante. Jack is the kind of guy who tries to do the right thing, but often it is Theo's crude but plainspoken manner that stirs him into action. As Theo likes to say, "There are two kinds of people in this world, risk takers and s--t takers. You gotta decide which you wanna be when you grow up, Jack."
If you were to interview Jack, here are some things you might find out about him:
In the Beginning…
John ("Jack") Lawrence Swyteck was born and raised in Miami, Florida. His December 7th birthday puts him under the sign of Sagitarius, for those who read horoscopes.
His father is Harry Swyteck. A former cop, he went to law school at the University of Florida but never practiced, entering politics instead. He served two terms as Florida's governor running on a popular "law and order" platform. Jack set foot in the Governor's mansion only once during his father's first term. Father and son lived through it. Jack's client didn't.
Jack's mother was born Ana Maria Fuentes in Havana, Cuba and grew up in Bejucal, a nearby town. She came to Miami as a teenager under a program called Pedro Pan (Spanish for Peter Pan), a humanitarian effort that enabled thousands of anxious Cuban parents to spirit away their children to America after Castro took power. Ana met Harry while he was home from college on summer break, and she married him on New Year's Eve. Jack was born eleven months later.
Ana's mother, affectionaly known as Abuela. Loves Cuban talk radio, and loves to tell the world that she invented Tres Leches, a famous dessert that (she says) was stolen from her by the Nicaraugans. After sending her daughter to Miami, she remained in Bejucal, hoping someday to find her own way out of Castro's Cuba. It was decades after Ana's death when she finally made it to Miami. Now, her sole mission in life is to give her gringo grandson a crash course in Cuban culture. So far, she gives him a C-minus.
Education, Career Path:
Jack attended college at the University of Florida, graduated from Yale Law School, and immediately went to work for the Freedom Institute, a rag-tag group of leftover hippies who defended death row inmates. He left after a few years, spent four years as a federal prosecutor, then went into private practice as a sole practitioner. Looking back on it, he didn't join the Freedom Institute expecting to represent innocent clients. But he did find one. His name was Theo Knight.
Jack's Best Friend, Theo Knight:
Theo was born in Miami to a street-walking prostitute. She was murdered when Theo was a boy. He has no idea who is father is. He and his older brother, Tatum, were raised by their aunt in Liberty City. She tried to keep them out of gangs, but to no avail. Tatum grew up to be a hit man. Theo was on death row when he met Jack. As for first impressions, Jack struck him as a "typical white Ivy League graduate with a save the black man guilt complex." Theo remembers the day well:
"It was a Friday morning. Guard comes and gets me from my cell, tells me I have a meetin' with my new court-appointed lawyer from The Freedom Institute. Of course, I'm sittin' on death row without a damn thing to do, except lay there and ask myself, `Theo, would you like the mustard sauce or drawn butter with your last meal of stone crabs and fried sweet potatoes?' So I'm bouncin' off the walls at the thought of a new lawyer. I go down, and there you are, sittin' on the other side of the glass."
Governor Swyteck signed Theo's death warrant shortly after Jack took the case. Perhaps that was the reason Jack worked so hard. Somehow, he managed to keep Theo alive long enough for genetic testing to come into vogue. It paid off. Theo was exonerated and moved to Miami, where he opened up a bar called "Sparky's," a play on "Old Sparky," the nickname for Florida's electric chair. Unfortunately for Jack, Theo has been trying to pay him back ever since.
U-2 and Coldplay. With apologies to his friend Theo, who plays a mean saxophone.
Abuela's specialty, ropa vieja, a shredded-beef dish with a name that translates to "old clothes."
1966 Mustang convertible with rally pack guages, wood steering wheel, and pony interior. His first major purchase out of law school and his prize possession.
Without Theo: Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 20 years old.
With Theo: Tequila, but only if it's smooth enough to drink without the training wheels (salt and lemon). Also, Flaming Wild Banshees, a Theo Knight invention made with 150 proof vodka and a dash of jalepeno juice. Light it on fire and call the fire department.
Love and Marriage: Jack & Andie
Andie Henning is a rising star in the FBI who made a name for herself doing undercover work in the Seattle field office. Jack is a Miami criminal defense lawyer who doesn’t trust the government and started his career defending death row inmates. Two young professionals who couldn’t be farther apart—geographically, professionally, ideologically. It must have been karma that pulled these two together.
It sure as sugar wasn’t love at first sight.
Read Got the Look (2006) and Cash Landing (coming 2015) to see how it all began.
Oh, and about that opening question ... if you must know the origins of "Swyteck," read Afraid of the Dark (2011).