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The Girl in the Glass Box: A Jack Swyteck Novel

Review

The Girl in the Glass Box: A Jack Swyteck Novel

It's easy to refer to current thrillers as being “ripped straight from today's headlines,” but James Grippando's latest novel, book #15 in his Jack Swyteck series, is just that and more. Jack Swyteck is a Miami-based attorney who has found himself over the years embroiled in both high-profile and serious pro bono cases.

Grippando's depiction of courtroom drama places him in a very small class of authors that includes perennial bestseller John Grisham. THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX focuses directly on the immigration debate. Jack agrees to meet with Julia Rodriguez and her 14-year-old daughter, Beatriz, at the behest of his abuela. The book opens with a scene at Café de Caribe in Miami where Julia works. Her boss, Duncan McBride, uncovers the fact that she is an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. His idea of fixing the situation involves an attempted sexual assault. When Julia rebuffs him, he throws her out and turns her into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Julia does not get far in the Little Havana section of Miami, where she resides, when she is tracked down and apprehended by ICE. Jack meets initially with Beatriz and then her mother, who is now in detention. Julia is labeled a Level One detainee, which means she is ineligible for release on bond. It is just a formality that will find Julia swiftly booted out of the United States and back to El Salvador, while Beatriz remains behind in the custody of Julia's sister, who is here legally. The only problem is Julia ran from El Salvador not just because of the promise of a better life in the US but to get away from her maniacal husband, Jorge, who she says brutalized and raped her.

"Rather than filling the narrative with any vitriol or mud-slinging, Grippando focuses on building a plot around a deadly situation with terrific characters and scenes so tensely written that I was literally breathless by the finale."

When the introductory court case opens, Jack finds out that ICE wants to send Julia back to El Salvador because she is a felon under their laws. She allegedly violated Article 133 of the Penal Code in El Salvador that claims she aborted a pregnancy in the first trimester. Under Salvadoran law, this can get the convicted felon up to 50 years in prison. Julia swears that the pregnancy was terminated only because it was the result of Jorge raping her. It will not matter much to the US as they are only bound by immigration law and not looking to get involved in a criminal act alleged to have happened in El Salvador.

Jack has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and clearly knows his way around the courtroom. However, immigration law is not his specialty, and he will need to do plenty of research to be successful. To begin with, Julia tells Jack that there was one witness to the assault and rape: Beatriz. If he can make a case based on Julia's fear of further damage upon her daughter and the rest of her family by her gangbanger of a husband, maybe they can delay the proceedings enough in immigration court to buy her another year in the States on asylum. Meanwhile, Beatriz begins to exhibit sudden changes that finds her entering into what appears to be a catatonic state. There is an actual name for this condition: resignation syndrome. When she snaps out of it, she describes the experience as being trapped inside her own personal glass box where she is screaming and no one can hear her.

As Julia's trial becomes public record, it picks up the unwanted attention of the one person she fears the most. Jorge makes his way to Miami and begins a homicidal spree that will not end until he has his wife and daughter back under his control. This is all great ammunition for Jack in the case for Julia's asylum, but it is still an uphill battle.

Jack's friend and ex-death row convict, Theo, agrees to hide Julia and Beatriz in an apartment above the club where he works. Theo also takes more than a passing liking to Julia and is instantly smitten. Unfortunately, Jorge blackmails a junkie prostitute into meeting Beatriz and planting a GPS dog leash in her backpack. Knowing exactly where Beatriz and Julia are gives Jorge an advantage they are not aware of, and his homicidal rage will not be stopped until he gets them back.

The Feds do not want to touch Jorge as he is a gang informant for them. They will need proof that he is a threat and responsible for the murders committed in Miami before they make a move. Meanwhile, Theo sees that Jack is floundering in his courtroom case and decides to take matters into his own hands. He violates Julia's agreement to remain in Miami-Dade County, taking her and Beatriz by car to head north in an attempt to flee to Canada. Unbeknownst to them is the pursuit of Jorge, and readers easily will be able to predict that the inevitable confrontation will not end well.

Everyone converges on the town of Plattsburgh, just south of the Canadian border in New York State's Adirondack Mountain region. There is a famous spot known as Roxham Road, which is literally where the border between the US and Canada meet. At times, thousands of attempts a week are made to cross it. As long as the person is legally in the US, they are granted passage to Canada. Those who are not legal are placed into custody in Clinton County, NY. Jack flies up to Plattsburgh by way of Albany and heads off the fleeing trio --- but not before a deadly confrontation with Jorge that will have unexpected results.

What I admire most about James Grippando is that he does not stoop to making reference to the country’s current political climate that finds both sides at each other’s throats over how to properly deal with the immigration issue. Rather than filling the narrative with any vitriol or mud-slinging, Grippando focuses on building a plot around a deadly situation with terrific characters and scenes so tensely written that I was literally breathless by the finale. For me, this is his finest work, which is saying a lot as I've enjoyed his writing for the past 25 years. THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX is a great and pertinent legal thriller that pulls out all the stops straight through to the fiery climax.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 8, 2019

The Girl in the Glass Box: A Jack Swyteck Novel
by James Grippando

  • Publication Date: February 5, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062657836
  • ISBN-13: 9780062657831