About the Author
H. Terrell Griffin is the award winning author of ten Matt Royal mysteries set on Florida's Suncoast. Prior to succumbing to his lifelong yen to write, he earned degrees in history and law from Mercer University and was a board certified civil trial lawyer based in Orlando for thirty-eight years. In his youth, Terry served three years in the U.S. Army, much of it as a medic in an Armored Cavalry regiment on the East German border.
Read an Excerpt
A Matt Royal Mystery
By H. Terrell Griffin
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2008 H. Terrell Griffin
All rights reserved.
The body lay on its back, nude. Its eyes and parts of its face were gone. Chunks of flesh had been torn from its torso, its genitals mutilated.
Vultures sat impassively on the limbs of the tree that grew from the center of the tall cage. They were used to humans standing around, talking, watching, eating peanuts, their kids laughing at the funny looking birds.
I dialed Vince on my cell phone. "There's a dead guy in your vulture pit," I said.
"I'm on my way."
Vince Delgado was the director of the Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary, which clung to the edge of City Island in Sarasota, Florida. Sick and injured birds were brought in for treatment and rehabilitation. Those who were too badly compromised to return to the wild after treatment were kept in cages spread around the sanctuary.
Vince was a drinking buddy from Tiny's, a bar on Longboat Key, the island just across New Pass from City Island. The night before, I had mentioned that I'd never visited his sanctuary, and he'd invited me to come down early in the morning, before the tourists showed up.
I'd been walking idly through the area, drinking from the cup of Starbucks I'd bought on St. Armand's Circle, enjoying the early morning of a bright April day. I didn't expect to see one of our citizens turned into vulture food.
Vince was chugging up the path from the office, his short arms pumping, his pumpkin-size belly jiggling as he ran. He was a short fat guy with curly black hair and a face that was overshadowed by a huge nose. His dark eyes had a look of panic as he slid to a stop at the vulture cage.
"Oh shit," he said. "This isn't going to look good in the papers."
"Call the police, Vince."
"Yeah." He took out his cell phone and dialed 911.
"Do you know him?"
"I don't think so, but it's hard to tell with his face all chewed up. I'd better get to the front to let the cops in."
I stood there, alone with the vultures and the deadman. Nearby, gulls were screeching for their breakfast, calling to whomever fed them, demanding service. A siren wailed in the distance, growing louder as the police cruiser turned onto Ken Thompson Parkway and headed for Pelican Man's. The car skidded to a stop on the parking lot, its siren abruptly dying, leaving only the sound of agitated birds.
A Sarasota patrolman trotted up, followed closely by a winded Vince. The young cop was my height, six feet, but he probably weighed twenty pounds more than my one eighty. His uniform hugged a body that had spent many hours in a gym. He was hatless, and his close-cropped hair resembled that of a military recruit. He introduced himself. Vince was bent over, hands on his knees, breathing heavily.
"I'm Matt Royal," I said, shaking the officer's hand.
"Did you find the body, Mr. Royal?"
"What can you tell me about this?"
"Nothing. I was just strolling by and saw the dead man."
"Why are you here when the place isn't even open yet?"
"Mr. Delgado invited me."
Vince found his voice. "I asked Mr. Royal to come by before we opened so that he could get a good look at the place. I'm hoping he'll give us a chunk of money."
It was an open secret that the sanctuary was in financial trouble. It depended on donations and admission charges for the daily tours, and the just-ended winter season had not been kind to the birds. Donations had dried up.
The policeman turned back to me. Vince winked, signaling that he knew I wasn't a donor.
The cop looked closely at me, a small scowl on his face. "Did you touch anything?"
"Don't run off. The detectives will want to talk to you." He pulled his radiomic from the Velcro tab on his shoulder and called for the detectives and a crime scene unit.
Vince had regained his composure; his breathing was back to normal. "We'll be in the office," he said, and we left the policeman to wait alone for his colleagues.CHAPTER 2
The next day, early, I was enjoying my morning ritual, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper on my sunporch overlooking Sarasota Bay. The sun was tentatively peeking over the mainland, as if trying to decide whether to show itself. A flats fishing boat sped by out on the Intracoastal, the high whine of its outboard competing with the cries of diving gulls. The phone rang.
The soft voice pierced my brain, resonating of joy and regret and loss. Images flashed. A tall brunette clad in the white garb of a nurse, her hazel eyes bright with humor. A smile that could make a man weep. Lips that once caressed mine, lightly, like the fine hair of a butterfly's wing. And sometimes, hungrily, drawing me into her in bursts of passion that singed my soul. My hand tightened around the phone.
"This is Laura."
"Are you well, Matt?"
"No. I need to see you."
"Breakfast. I'm at the Hilton."
"I'll be there in twenty minutes," I said.
She hung up.
Longboat Key is a small island, about ten miles long and a quarter-mile wide. It lies off the southwest coast of Florida, south of Tampa Bay. I live on the north end in a condo facing Sarasota Bay. The Hilton Hotel sits on the Gulf of Mexico about three miles south of my home.
We'd met soon after Laura finished her degree in nursing. She was standing in my cubicle in the emergency room, grinning. I had just finished law school and begun practicing in Orlando. A pick-up game of football in a city park had landed me in the hospital with a twisted ankle.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"Nothing. You just look kind of bedraggled. Not as spiffy as you were when I saw you at Harper's last night."
"Yes, the bar. I was there watching the beautiful people hang out."
"I'm not one of them."
"Oh? Could've fooled me."
"I was there with a client who is one of the beautiful people."
"Well, here you are now. I have to get some blood from you."
"Why blood for a twisted ankle?"
"Don't know. The doctor ordered it."
"You'll be gentle?"
She grinned again. And stuck the hell out of me.
Within a year, we were married.
I walked through the Hilton lobby and out to the deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Laura was sitting at a table, a cup of coffee and a glass of water in front of her. A large banyan tree provided shade, and lines of twine were strung across the area to discourage the gulls from joining the guests for meals. The sun was behind us, rising over the bay, and a soft morning glow suffused the air. The scent of the sea surrounded us. She sat quietly, staring out at the turquoise water. She was not aware of me.
I stood for a moment, drinking her in, remembering. She'd left me ten years before, but I couldn't see any changes in her. She was still beautiful, her dark hair swept back over her ears. Just the way I liked it. Did she do that for me this morning? She was wearing a pink tank top and white shorts. Her feet were in sandals, toenails painted pink, her ankles crossed under the table.
Her face was still unlined, except for a few laugh wrinkles at the edges of her eyes. She was staring out to sea, her face locked in a grimace. A glint of sun slipped through the banyan branches and reflected off her water glass. She raised the coffee cup to her lips.
She put it down without taking a swallow. She turned toward me, as if some silent signal had hinted at my presence. She smiled and melted my heart. She stood, arms out, as I strode toward her. She wrapped me in an embrace that was more than friendly. Her hair was redolent of lilacs, and the scent of vanilla tickled my nose. She still used the same shampoo and body lotion.
"I've missed you," she whispered. "More than I should."
"Me too," I said, choking back a wave of emotion, wary of saying more.
She stood back, her arms still on my shoulders. She had a quizzical look on her face, and a smile played on her lips.
"You don't have any gray," she said. "Your hair's still dark."
We parted, and she said, "I ordered you coffee."
We sat, and the waiter arrived with my drink.
"I need help, Matt," she said, without preamble. "My stepdaughter Peggy is missing."
Laura had left me with good reason. I had been too caught up in being a lawyer and an occasional drunk to give her the family she wanted. She'd met a good man, a widower with two children, and she had married him and moved to Atlanta.
I'd spent the first part of my life doing what I thought I was supposed to do. The military, college, law school, the practice, politics, the climb up the ladder of success. It didn't work out. I was unhappy and drinking too much. I couldn't quite figure out where I was supposed to be in the world. Laura was unhappier than I knew, and after she left, my life spiraled downhill faster than a falling meteor.
I'd been a good lawyer, a trial lawyer, a believer in the system and the nobility of my profession. I worked hard and cared about my clients. I told them the truth, and never took on a case just for the fee. If a client's cause was unwinnable, I told him so at the beginning; told him he didn't need to throw away money on a lawyer who couldn't help him. And I refused the case.
The profession changed. Money became the Holy Grail. The law became a business, and I hated it. I stayed in it because I didn't know anything else. Then Laura left and a fog of despair settled over me like a dark night. There were days when I couldn't find my way through the void.
Laura took nothing from our marriage but my heart. I kept working for a couple of years, trying to salvage a career I no longer cared about, and then said the hell with it. I sold everything I had and moved to Longboat Key. I had enough money to live a modest life without working.
I was enjoying myself. I'd made a lot of friends, and occasionally I used my legal skills to help out someone who needed a good lawyer. I never charged any fees. I didn't need the money as much as the people I helped did.
"Tell me about it," I said.
"She came to Sarasota on spring break, and we haven't heard a word from her since."
"Maybe she's just not communicating."
"No. She's had a bad time lately, but she always checks in with her father. She wouldn't just fail to call."
"Her cell phone?"
"It goes straight to voice mail, and now we're getting a recording telling us that her box is full. She's not returning anyone's calls."
"Have you talked to the police?"
"They won't do anything. She's eighteen and is considered an adult. Unless I have some proof that she's been kidnapped or something, the law isn't interested."
"What can I do?"
"I don't know. You're a lawyer. You know this area, know people. Maybe you can help find her."
"I don't practice anymore."
"I know. I keep up with you. Jock and I talk."
I was surprised. Jock Algren was my oldest friend, and I didn't know he'd maintained contact with Laura after the divorce. I felt a little betrayed.
"I didn't know that," I said.
"Don't be angry. I call him sometimes when I'm missing you a lot. That's all."
"You miss me?"
"I've always loved you. I've always wondered if we could have made it work if I'd been a little tougher."
"No, you did the right thing. I'd still be in Orlando drinking myself to death if you hadn't left. It took losing you to get my life back on track. Are you happy?"
"Yes. I love Jeff. He's been a great husband. We have a good life, but that doesn't mean I have to stop loving you."
"I take it you're talking platonic love here."
She laughed. "Not really, but that's the way it'll be. I'm a one-man woman."
"I know. Damn."
She laughed again, and reached out and touched my hand. "We'll always have Paris," she said.
I laughed now. Wemust have seen Casablanca a hundred times, and she still couldn't get the accent right.
We ate breakfast, chatting and enjoying the soft breeze off the Gulf. She told me about Peggy, a troubled teen who had dropped out of the University of Georgia after her first semester. She moved into a house near the campus in Athens with several other disaffected former students. Her father had pleaded with Peggy to come home to Atlanta until she was ready for college, but the girl was staying put. Laura and Jeff suspected that Peggy had gotten mired in the drug culture that often grows up around college campuses, but they were powerless to do anything about it.
Peggy was not completely lost to that underworld culture, and she called home every Sunday to chat with her family. She had never missed a week, until she'd come to Sarasota for spring break.
Laura sighed. "We didn't think too much about it the first Sunday she missed calling," she said, "but after the second week we tried to track her down."
"Did you check out the house in Athens?"
"That's the first place we went. There were some kids living there, but they told us Peggy had moved out. They didn't know where she'd gone."
"Do you know where she was staying in Sarasota?"
"No. She told us she would be at the beach, but that's all."
"So, you don't even know if it was a hotel or a rented condo."
"How long are you going to be here?"
"I'm leaving today. I came in yesterday and talked to the Sarasota police, but they're no help. I came out here last night, and finally worked up the nerve to call you."
"I'm glad you did. You can't stay for a few days?"
"Afraid not. My other stepdaughter Gwen is so upset about her sister that I don't want to leave her alone for too long. Jeff tries, but she needs her mother. Me."
Laura had moved on into another life that didn't include me. I understood that, but I felt left out. She was still part of me, and yet she wasn't. I was used to that, and my life had moved on as well. What might have been will never be. Somebody ought to write that on a tombstone somewhere. Maybe someone had.
"It's moving too fast," she said.
"What is?" I asked, puzzled.
"What're you talking about?"
"We're on a collision course with death you know."
"From the moment we're born."
"Yes, but it's coming closer now. Closer than I want to think about."
"We've got a lot of years left, Laura."
"Do you remember when we were young, the day we got married?"
I remembered every moment of it. Sometimes, at night, when I couldn't sleep, I'd retrieve those memories from back where they live, hidden away like precious gems in the vault of my mind. I'd wade into them, take myself back to that warm spring day in Orlando, smell the flowers in the church and the slight vanilla aroma of her skin as I leaned in to kiss her at the altar. I'd hear the swell of the organ as we strode up the aisle into the rest of our lives. And because I'd be overwhelmed by regret for what might have been, I'd quietly store them away again, to be brought out and caressed when my soul demanded a visit with Laura.
"Yes," I said. "I remember."
The waiter appeared and poured us more coffee. The sun was higher now, its rays more concentrated, heating up the patio. A gull cried in the distance, a chair scraped away from a nearby table. Then there was quiet.
I said, "I'll see what I can find out about Peggy."
Laura gave me a picture of her stepdaughter taken in a garden on the day she graduated from high school. "This was taken in June, in our yard at home."
There was no point of reference that would give me her height, but she was a lovely girl. Five feet seven, Laura said. Peggy was wearing her graduation gown and holding her diploma. She was smiling. She had blonde hair reaching to her shoulders, a nose that might have been a little too perky for my taste, and good legs below the hem of the robe.
I took the picture and told Laura I'd do what I could. "You realize this is a long shot," I said. "I'll show the picture around here on Longboat and the other islands, but the chances of anybody remembering her are slim."
"I know, Matt. But I don't know what else to do. I'll keep trying to get the police involved, but I don't think they're going to help. Maybe you'll get lucky."
We talked a while and drank another cup of coffee.
She looked at me, staring at my face for a long time, long enough that I was getting uncomfortable. Then she shrugged, as if snapping out of a trance.
"I've got to go," she said. "I've got a plane in a couple of hours."
"I'll be in touch."
Excerpted from Blood Island by H. Terrell Griffin. Copyright © 2008 H. Terrell Griffin. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Longboat Key, Florida retired lawyer Matt Royal does pro bono only with his prime stipulations being shorts and no tie. Matt is taken aback when his ex-wife, Laura arrives at the Key pleading with him to help her. Her stepdaughter Peggy went to Sarasota on spring break, but she never came back; instead she just vanished last seen in Longboat Key.
Matt agrees to investigate her disappearance. He follows several leads only to have Laura vanish too. Since her trail is fresher, Matt begins to track Laura, which leads him the Heaven Can¿t Wait Spa in Key West. From there he begins to find a connection to lunatic Reverend Robert William Simmermon who holds religious court on nearby BLOOD ISLAND. This is a place Matt knows he will not just be unwelcome; he will be shark food.
This fast-paced Florida Keys mystery is filled with suspense and a great hero whose sardonic (including self flagellation) humor, makes for an entertaining suspenseful tale and has him fit in the zany Sunshine State investigators¿ pantheon. Matt is terrific as he hops the Keys but with each leap he gets into deeper trouble. Fans will relish his third retirement escapade (see LONGBOAT BLUES and MURDER KEY; neither read by me) as nothing seems to go right.
Matt Royal gave up his law practice to live a quieter life on Longboat Key, Florida. However, his retirement has been anything but quiet. Matt seems to have quite the knack for finding trouble on the idyllic Florida coastline.Matt¿s ex-wife comes to Longboat Key to enlist his help in the search for her stepdaughter, Peggy. Peggy has been missing for weeks but since she¿s no longer a minor, the police aren¿t taking her parents¿ concern seriously. Matt agrees to see what he can do, and soon finds himself mired in the dangerous world of organized crime.His search for Peggy leads him to a posh escort service run by a religious fanatic, where unsuspecting girls are drugged and forced into prostitution. But a closer look at the organization reveals a much darker secret. Operating from the secluded, privately owned Blood Island, the cult¿s leader is putting in motion a sinister plot that could have disastrous consequences.With the help of longtime friends Logan Hamilton and Jock Algren, Matt Royal will have to push the limits of lawful behavior to save Peggy and avert a global crisis.Griffin portrays the seedy criminal underworld against the backdrop of spectacular coastal sunsets, always reminding the reader that crime exists that no matter how beautiful the scenery. The changes that Matt¿s character undergoes ¿ becoming increasingly disturbed by the actions he¿s driven to ¿ are incredibly compelling.I did find it difficult keeping up with all the new characters that were introduced (despite taking thorough notes) but overall, I found Blood Island to be an enjoyable noir mystery.
The Quick Synopsis:Retired attorney Matt Royal is enjoying his retirement down in Florida when he gets a call from his ex-wife who asks for his help locating her missing step-daughter. All of a sudden, dead bodies are popping up everywhere and Matt is right in the middle of it. Drug dealers, the mob, religious cults - you name it and this mystery has it.The Literary Criticism:Griffin has a talent for writing the grand noir mystery tradition. Think Sam Spade meets Miami Vice. The tight plot is fast paced from the very first chapter and reels you in hook, line, and sinker. Short chapters keep the plot moving right along and Griffin doesn't drop his end-of-the-chapter teasers just because it's the middle of the story.Particularly impressive is the author's ability to convey all of the darkness of Florida's underworld without overdosing on explicitness. Sex is implied rather than detailed, the language is appropriate for the scene, and violence...well, we are talking about drug dealers and the mob here, after all.There were a few stumbles here and there, such as a goodly number of characters introduced in a very short time span, but nothing that detracts from the story overall. And while the ending is looser than I would have liked, Griffin's just plain good writing more than makes up for any small complaints I had.I loved, loved this book and would highly recommend it for any fan of a good mystery. Looking for a holiday gift for the manly-man in your life? This book is it (and then steal it for yourself to enjoy!)
A sparely written, hard-boiled mystery for guys who like boats, guns, kicking butt, ex-military, old-boy networks, and the good guys winning in the end. It took me a while to get through it only because it is not my usual genre, but I'm sure lots of others would really dig it.
Love this series.
I found the Matt Royal series by H. Terrell Griffin by luck and really like the style and the stories. A quick read, I couldn't wait to read the rest of the series and I did so. I look forward to the next story by H. Terrell Griffin. Read them and you will too.
Started a little slow, but when it took off WOW!! Instantly ordered all of his other books. Recommend to all.
I'm an avid reader, so to me this was kind of a simple book. It really didn't hold my attention well. It was a predictable man's book. I wanted to read it because it took place in Florida where I am from and I enjoy mysteries. I love Greg Iles and Linwood Barclay and I had hoped it would be along those lines, but it held none of that intrigue and after you've read their books with all the twists and turns they put into their novels, this was a great disappointment.
Kept my interest. Action moves along. I would like to read the other 2 in this series.
Blood Island: A Matt Royal Mystery by H. Terrell Griffin 4 STARS Blood Island is the third Matt Royal book now that I have read in the past two days and it does not disappoint. It's is high drama,action especially for a lawyer. Matt has loyal friends and he is one too. His ex-wife comes into town and asks for his help to find her missing step-daughter Peggy. Peggy is over 18 so the police need more to search for her than she has stopped calling home weekly. Matt finds a dead body and after that someone is trying to kill him and his friend Logan. It seems that everytime they talk to somebody they end up dead. For a beach bum he gets into a lot of messes. Lots of murders,violence,bombers,cults and drugs are going on and Matt seems to be in the middle of it. Book discription taken from Amazon Matt Royal never has to look far for excitement. Excitement-and sometimes trouble-has a way of finding him first. But for this fun-loving lawyer turned beach bum, things are about to get serious. Dead serious. When his ex-wife asks for help in tracking down her stepdaughter, last seen in Matts hometown of Longboat Key, Matt agrees to do a little searching. But what looks like the case of one missing girl turns out to be something much bigger-and much more dangerous. Enlisting the aid of his buddies Jock Algren and Logan Hamilton, Matt launches a full-speed-ahead search that leads from Longboat Key to Key West to an ominous strip of land called Blood Island. But this is no island paradise. Blood Island is home base to a cult of religious zealots. And theyre making devastating plans that could change the world forever. Bullets fly, and as the clock ticks down, it will be up to Matt to make sure that what happens on Blood Island stays on Blood Island. I did not want to put down the book till it was through with it. I admit in one place I did share a few tears. Can't wait to read the next Matt Royal Mystery book. I got Blood Island free on amazon awhile back. Publisher: Oceanview Publishing; 1 edition (December 1, 2008) 252 pages ASIN: B00AN8A2NE
After reading Bitter Legacy, the fifth novel in the Matt Royal series by author H. Terrell Griffin, I knew I wanted to read the earlier books in the series. Blood Island, the third installment in the series, hits the ground running as Matt Royal, a former soldier and lawyer who has retired to Longboat Key, Florida, finds a body in a vulture cage at a local wildlife refuge. We learn that trouble seems to follow Matt, but fortunately, his friendship with the local police chief helps to assure the authorities that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Upon his return home, Matt is shocked to learn that his ex wife, Laura, has left a message to arrange a meeting with him. When they get together, Laura explains that her stepdaughter, Peggy, has been missing and was last seen on Longboat Key. Despite the divorce, Matt still loves Laura and agrees to help search for the missing girl. As he investigates the disappearance, he finds himself involved with murder, religious cults, prostitution, and terrorist attempts. All this, he learns, is linked to the mysterious Blood Island and the people who own it. When Laura also goes missing, Matt races to unravel the mystery before it is too late. Griffin clearly has a great love for Florida. The setting and the people who inhabit this story all carry a type of reality that can only be portrayed by someone who has experienced them. In the hands of any other author, this kind of fast paced thriller could become shallow, but Griffin infuses enough emotion, historical fact, and suspense to keep the reader thoroughly invested in the story. In a genre that is often filled with plot based story telling, it is nice to have a book that keeps a sense of truth while still providing entertainment. This novel is a quick read and a really fun mystery.