Blood Island by H. Terrell Griffin

I used to be one of those thorough types who always read a series in order and liked to read widely in an author’s Blood Island by H. Terrell Griffinwork in order to judge their latest book.  But these days I don’t have the time or energy for that sort of diligence.  There are so many books I want to read in so many different styles and genres I tend to just read whatever book grabs my attention at the moment.  Not very disciplined I know, but there it is.

I bring this up because in times past I would have read the first two books before picking up the latest H. Terrell Griffin Matt Royal mystery Blood Island.  But I didn’t and so I can’t really comment on the series or any backstory I might have missed.  But luckily the book functions as a stand alone story.

Enough discursive introduction then, what about the book?  It was an entertaining mystery/action story with some unique plot lines.

The central character is obviously Matt Royal a semi-retired trial lawyer living in Longboat Key, Florida. Royals high pressure legal career burned him out and cost him his marriage, but he ended up with enough money to live in Longboat and do pro-bono legal and investigative work.  He is also an ex-special forces Vietnam veteran.

Like so many mysteries the story kicks of with a dead body.  This one found in local bird sanctuary.  Royal doesn’t think much of it at first, but when his ex-wife Laura turns to him for help in find her step-daughter, Peggy, things get complicated.  Soon Laura is missing too, the violence escalates and the body count grows.  With far too many unexplained coincidences Royal finds himself in the center of a dangerous plot.

FYI, what follows includes plot spoilers for those of you who don’t want to read those sort of things.

The story can be broken up into thirds.  The first third introduces the characters and the threads at the heart of the mystery.  The second half focuses on Royal’s search for his ex-wife and her step-daughter.  And the last third focuses on the unraveling of the larger conspiracy that ties all the sub-plots together.

The book does best when it is focused on Royal and his investigations.  Royal is a laid back, and sardonic tough guy, who has the training to get ugly when he needs to.  He realizes he screwed up and ruined his life by focusing on his career to the detriment of everything else.  That realization makes him humble and aware that he needs to keep his personal demons at bay if he is to be happy or at least content.  As PW noted: “Griffin’s breezy first-person narration brings the likable Matt, with his killer reflexes and wry sense of humor, vividly to life.”

The story starts off slow and builds the tension as the danger Royal is facing grows.  The first two thirds of the book work well this way.  The last third is in some ways an awkward addition. What weaves the plots dealing with Laura and Peggy into a larger whole is a conspiracy involving a mentally unstable religious figure who runs bordellos and is planning to blow up churches to start an anti-Muslim backlash.

This unique hook connects Peggy’s kidnapping to the other bodies and sets up Royal’s adventures surrounding Blood Island.  But the religious/terrorism element also forces Griffin – or at least he chose – to wrap up the threat to those churches. This part of the book is well done for the most part, but it gives the effect of having almost two endings: one when Royal rescues Peggy and finds out what happened to Laura and one when the terrorist threat storyline is resolved.

This aspect of the plot didn’t ruin the book or anything but I thought it made the story a little less tight then it otherwise would have been.  It seems to me that Griffin wanted to add a plot line about religious fundamentalists, and used it well to build a conspiracy, but didn’t quite know how to wrap it up.

This nit-pick aside, Blood Island was a entertaining and quick read.  Matt Royal is an interesting character and Griffin does a nice job of mixing character, suspense, and action.  Even it I haven’t read the whole series, I feel confident in saying that those who enjoy mystery/suspense with a South Florida twist will enjoy past, present and future Matt Royal novels.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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