TWENTY by James Grippando

Jack Swyteck Novel, Book 17

From the publisher:

Jack Swyteck and his family are caught in the crossfire after a deadly school shooting claims twenty casualties—Florida’s fifth mass shooting in as many years—in this provocative and timely thriller from Harper Lee Prize–winner James Grippando that touches on some of the most contentious issues roiling America today.

It is the message every parent of a school-age child fears: “Active Shooter on Campus.” 

Jack Swyteck is at his office when he receives the emergency text from Riverside Day School. Both his daughter, Righley, and his wife, FBI agent Andie Henning, are in danger. Andie is in the school’s rec center when she hears the fire alarms, then loud popping noises and screams coming from the hallway. A trained law-enforcement officer, Andie knows she’s supposed to stay locked down inside the room. But Righley is in her kindergarten classroom and Andie must get her to safety.

The tragedy prompts mass hysteria—and dangerous speculation. The police haven’t identified the shooter, but they find a handgun on the school grounds registered to a parent, a Muslim man named Amir Khoury. News of the gun and its owner leaks and quickly goes viral. Within minutes Al Qaeda claims responsibility. Andie is shocked—Amir is married to her friend, Lilly, a WASP whose bloodline goes back to the American Revolution. 

When Xavier, Amir and Lilly’s oldest child and an eighteen-year-old senior at Riverside confesses to the crime, the local community’s anti-Muslim fervor explodes to levels unseen since 9/11. Terrified for her son’s life, Lilly asks Jack to step in. A seasoned defense attorney with a passion to see justice done, he’s taken on plenty of complicated cases. Xavier’s, however, is not one he’s inclined to take—until an old friend who lost his daughter in the shooting tells him that he must.  

With the public calling for blood and prosecutors confident their case is air tight, Jack must unearth the Khourys’ family secrets in order to expose the shocking truth and save his client from certain death. But he may not be able to save everyone—including himself.


Twenty is the 17th novel James Grippando has published featuring Jack Swyteck and his family as the centers of the story. The title of the book is a reference to the twentieth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, events that forced the U.S. and its allies to begin a war against radical terrorism. I came away from reading this novel with the impression that Grippando, definitely a top-tier author of books, has somehow surpassed himself coming out with the gripping read to top all gripping reads.

The story begins with a mass shooting at a private school in Miami, and one that is attended by Swyteck’s daughter Righley who is a kindergartener there. Both Jack and his wife Andie find out about the shooting and rush over to the school to ascertain that their daughter is not hurt. Andie is an agent for the FBI but is not permitted to carry her gun when entering school grounds. She reacts instinctively by just standing guard at the kindergarten area holding a fire extinguisher as the only weapon she can put her hands on.

When the crisis is calmed one of the high school boys stands up and admits he did the shooting. With the deaths and wounding are tallied up the parents scream for blood calling for an immediate death sentence for the boy that confessed. While Jack is totally against representing the confessed killer, he is talked into it by one of the parents of a girl wounded in the attack. The rationale for the request is that it will probably spare all concerned from having their children forced to testify over and over again about the attack if the death penalty is sought by the prosecution. If the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for multiple life sentences it will end quickly and allow those grieving to come to grips with their anguish.

Public opinion is slanted by the fact that the father of the boy confessing to the shootings is Muslim and first opinions postulate that he radicalized his son and masterminded the murders. With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 coming up it is not difficult to read terrorist activity into an already flammable situation which is described very well by the author. The reader will not be able to absent himself or herself from getting on the emotional rollercoaster that is set up quite well by Grippando. An all nighter? How could it not be and then some.

2/2021 Paul Lane

TWENTY by James Grippando. Harper (January 5, 2021). ISBN: 978-0062915085. 384 pages.

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2 Responses to TWENTY by James Grippando

  1. Kathryn MacAlister says:

    Which book is this a review of? I’m so confused!

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