Last to Die (Swyteck No. 3)
"An intricate and engrossing tale... The third and best in the Skyteck series."
- Orlando Sentinel
In an exciting new series that critics have called "John Grisham meets Robert Ludlum," Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck faces his biggest challenge yet.
Tatum Knight is a former contract killer. Ruthless. Conniving. And he's Jack's newest client. Tatum is the older brother of Jack's best friend, Theo. Theo himself spent time on death row until Jack found the evidence to prove him innocent. Jack isn't so sure about Tatum.
A gorgeous young woman has been shot dead in her Mercedes on a Miami street. Tatum denies that he had anything to do with it, but he admits to Jack that he did meet with her in Theo's bar, where she tried to hire him.
Sally Fenning was worth forty-eight million dollars when she died. Money had never made her happy, so she left it all to her enemies -- left it for them to fight over, that is. She named six heirs in her will, but there's a catch: No one gets a penny until all but one of the heirs are dead. It's survival of the greediest.
Quickly the lawyers gear up for a bitter legal battle, but Jack braces himself for much worse. He alone knows that heir number six -- Tatum Knight -- is a professional killer. As the heirs begin to fall, Jack and his unforgettable sidekick, Theo, are in a race against time to discover if Tatum is behind all the killing. Or is someone even more frightening, more dangerous, the odds-on favorite to be the last to die?
From the harrowing first scene through its shocking climax, Last to Diedelivers nonstop action and chilling suspense that fans around the world have come to expect from bestselling author James Grippando.
"Grippando, whose best thrillers have been full of imagination and out-of-left-field surprises, looks like he's found a winner in the Swyteck series."
"A wild will turns its legatees into clay pigeons in Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck's latest outing. . . . Turbo-charged pacing."
- Kirkus Reviews
"Tantalizing premise . . . enjoyable . . . lives up to its promise as a $46-million game of survival."
- Publishers Weekly
"Grippando's style keeps the story moving."
- Library Journal
- Chicago Sun-Times
"A unique, timely thriller that moves briskly and has a cast of strong characters."
- Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
"Grippando has a deft and clever hand with dialogue. . . .Moves along quickly. . . .We want more."
- Miami Herald
"The fun is in watching it unfold. And don't be too sure that you've figured it out until you get to the final pages."
- St. Petersburg Times
"An action-paced thriller."
"Another summer winner--an intricate, engrossing tale of a murder-for-hire....rewards the readers with more than just a regular whodunit."
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Grippando's writing is crisp, his characters sympathetic and well drawn."
- San Antonio Express-News
"A great book . . . this is summer reading at its most satisfying."
- Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS)
BEHIND THE BOOK ...
"Last to Die" and the Not so Sweet Side of Chocolate
Are you a chocolate lover? Me too. So imagine my dismay upon learning that literally tons and tons of the chocolate products we eat every day in this country are made from cocoa beans that were harvested by child slaves.
At the time I began my research for Last to Die, studies by the United Nations and State Department confirmed that approximately fifteen thousand children, aged nine to twelve, had been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee, and cocoa plantations in Côte d'Ivoire. The situation was only predicted to get worse, as prices for cocoa continued to fall, and almost half of the world's cocoa came from the very region that had stooped to child labor to boost profitability.
Côte d'Ivoire was once regarded as one of Africa's most economically stable countries. Even before the rebel activities of late 2002 turned the country upside down, the local governments denied that child slavery existed. Through the hard work of some very devoted people, however, a face was eventually put on the problem - the faces of children who struggled to find their way home to the most impoverished of countries that neighbored Côte d'Ivoire. Children who told of men luring them away from their families in bus stops and busy shopping markets in countries like Mali, Benin, or Burkima Faso. Many traveled by sea, packed in crowded old ships at ports like Cotonou, ironically a thriving center of slave trade in earlier centuries. Others came by land, trucking through the brush and canoeing across rivers until they reached plantations far from civilization, farther still from home. They stopped only when it was time for the men to get out and negotiate with cocoa farmers near Lake Kossou, when two or three or twelve children at a time would march off to meet other children of the same fate. They lived in overcrowded huts without cots, without plumbing or electricity, but with strict rules against talking, because talking led to complaining, and complaining led to revolt. They told of twelve hour workdays in the fields, sun-up to sun down, and the hunger in their bellies from lousy food, mostly burned bananas, maybe a yam if they were lucky. They bore scars on their legs, arms, and backs, told of the beatings when they didn't work fast enough. The beatings when they didn't work long enough. The beatings when they tried to escape. All for no pay to the child, just a promise of perhaps a lump sum payment of ten or fifteen dollars to the child's family, a payment that was frequently never made. No one wanted to call it slavery, but one of the first rules I learned in law school is if it looks like a duck and quacks like a
duck . . .
Though the situation reportedly improved after I began my research, recent unrest in Côte d'Ivoire makes it impossible to gauge the present scope of the problem. There are some six hundred thousand cocoa and coffee plantations in the country, mostly small operations in isolated areas. They were difficult enough to monitor under a stable government. Throw in rebel gunfire and political unrest, and who knows what is going on at those plantations?
Last to Die is not about the cocoa industry, but the story did in many ways begin with the plight of these children. Some have called Last to Die a tale of "survival of the greediest," but very early on I realized that I needed at least one character who didn't care about money. Keeping true to the rule of "Show, don't tell," I created the character of Rene Fenning, a charity volunteer in West Africa who helps children escape from cocoa plantations. She's not a lead character, but she does give the reader a chance to see the problem of child slavery through the eyes of someone on the battle's frontline. And for those readers who simply want to have a good time, West Africa provides ample opportunity for Jack and his colorful sidekick, Theo Knight, to get into all kinds of trouble. I think I had more fun writing the scenes involving Jack and Theo in Côte d'Ivoire than any scenes I've ever written. I hope you'll have as much fun reading them.
LAST TO DIE: HarperCollins Publishers: July 2003
Behind the Writing of the Novel: Copyright 2003 James Grippando