(23. – 910.) Gone Again by James Grippando – In the 13th Jack Swyteck legal mystery, the first I have read, Swyteck returns to his legal roots at the Freedom Institute. While not re-joining the Institute, a small public interest law firm devoted to defending death penalty cases, he will pay rent that will defray operating expenses.
Swyteck’s intention to avoid being drawn into the maelstrom of death cases lasts but a day. With other lawyers gone he interviews Debra Burgette. She has come to the Institute to plead for the life of Dylan Reeves convicted of murdering her daughter, Sashi. Florida’s governor has just signed the death warrant and Reeves is to be executed in a month. She explains to a startled Swteck that:
…. Sashi is alive. I know she’s alive. And I need you people to help me prove it before they execute this man for killing her.”
I joined Swyteck in being hooked.
Sashi and her younger brother, Alexander, had been adopted by the Burgette’s when Sashi was 13. The adoption had taken place through a Moscow agency. Sashi and Alexander had been born in Chechyna.
Gavin Burgette had been looking for a son to complete the family. They already had a biological daughter, Aquinnah. When they learned Alexander had an older sister they decided to adopt her as well rather than separate brother and sister. Aquinnah was also 13 at the adoption.
While Alexander fitted in well Sashi was the teenager from hell. She was disruptive at home. She caused such havoc at a private school she was expelled. She made wild and reckless accusations of abuse.
She was diagnosed with RAD (reactive attachment disorder). In a hearing seeking a writ of habeas corpus a psychiatrist explains:
RAD is a mental disorder rooted in childhood experience. The child exhibits markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially. A false belief that he or she is incapable of being loved continues through adolescence and into adulthood.
By 17 the family was worn out from dealing with the never-ending crises caused by Sashi.
Then one day she was gone. Reeves, a local thug, was caught with her semen stained panties. At the end of a long long police interview the detective asks him if he needs forgiveness. After a long pause he nods his head. It is not a surprise he was convicted at trial.
Yet there was never a body found.
Burgette has refused to accept Sashi is dead because she gets a telephone call on Sashi’s birthday every year in which the caller never says anything. She is sure it is Sashi communicating with her.
While a slender reed on which to build a case Swyteck takes up the challenge.
In an interview with Reeves he draws out that Reeves sexually assaulted Sashi but in his words she got away from him. He further explains the semen stain. There is some plausibility in his statement.
To save Reeves and determine if Sashi is alive means Swyteck must delve deeply into the Burgette family at the time of her disappearance. Mainly because of Sashi it is a complex quest which takes Swyteck into international adoptions gone bad. To say more would be a spoiler. It is an intense issue.
In his personal life Swyteck is excited about becoming a father. His wife, FBI agent Andie Henning, is almost 28 weeks into her pregnancy. There are complications that could threaten Andie’s life and force a premature birth. While never overtaking the legal mystery the difficult pregnancy adds personal tension.
I wondered how Henning and Swyteck could function as a couple being on opposite sides of the criminal justice system. Through a pragmatic flexibility I do not associate with the FBI they avoid conflicts of interest. It would be unrealistic not to talk about their work but they maintain confidentiality.
The plot moves swiftly. There is abundant dialogue driving the story. I would not quite put Grippando on a par with Grisham but he has written a compelling legal mystery. My next post will explore why I enjoyed the legal aspects of the story. (Gone Again is the first book of the trio that makes up the shortlist for the 2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.)