Book review: Fraternity lynching at center of 'A Death in Live Oak'


‘A Death in Live Oak’ By James Grippando. Harper, 384 pages, $27.99

James Grippando delivers his usual mix of strong fiction based on fact in the engrossing — and unflinching — “A Death in Live Oak,” his 14th novel about Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck.

Grippando has never taken it easy on Jack, who has specialized in proving the innocence of his clients, even those who have been previously convicted. But this case gives Jack pause.

His father, Harry, asks him to help Mark Towson, the president of a University of Florida fraternity. Mark has been accused of lynching Jamal Cousins, the president of a black fraternity. Jack agrees to look into the case, but decided that if he discovers Mark is guilty, he will drop the case.

While evidence seems to suggest Mark is guilty, Jack begins to believe in his client. Racial tension and violence surround the case, which also brings up memories of a similar lynching in 1944. While Jack works the case in northern Florida, his wife, Andie, an FBI agent, has infiltrated a white supremacist group to investigate another crime.

“A Death in Live Oak” is a timely look at issues of race and hatred. Grippando succinctly parallels the current atmosphere with that of 1944, using a real incident that happened in Live Oak, Florida, 74 years ago. Grippando handles the historical incident with aplomb, never once succumbing to melodrama while showing that history too often repeats itself.

Grippando has built a reputation for action-packed and involving stories. While Grippando fills “A Death in Live Oak” with emotion, the plot is overstuffed with villains and publicity seekers, and doesn’t delve deep enough into racial tension.

Meet the author

James Grippando will discuss “A Death in Live Oak” at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-442-4408.

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at

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