When a serial killer shows up on Longboat Key, Florida after a twelve year absence, Matt Royal is stymied. The first woman killed on Longboat Key has ties to a secretive government agency for which Matt's best friend Jock Algren works. Was this a coincidence or was she a targeted kill? Matt's friend, Longboat Key detective Jennifer Diane (J.D.) Duncan investigates the murders but also seems to be a target of the killer. Why? And where has the killer been for the past twelve years? And why has he come to Longboat Key when his earlier kills were all in Miami? The mystery deepens when Guatemalan gang-bangers try to kill Matt and J.D. and suspicions grow that Mexican drug cartels are somehow involved. The director of Jock's agency orders him to do whatever is necessary to find the killer because of the death of the woman with connections to the agency. Will Jock simply take out the murderer or allow J.D. and the law to arrest, try and convict the bad guys? Matt's life is further complicated by J.D.'s growing dissatisfaction with island living and her thoughts of returning to Miami.
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 © 2013 H. Terrell Griffin
All rights reserved.
The corpse was floating at the edge of the channel that runs between Sister Key and its larger neighbor, Longboat Key. Only the back was visible above the surface, the body bent over as if tying a shoe, the head and feet submerged. It was moving north, its pace languid, matching that of the outgoing tidal current.
Carl Motes was out early that Saturday morning, cruising at first light toward the Coast Guard station in Cortez. He was commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla based on Longboat Key, a small island off the southwest coast of Florida. He planned to meet his crew, have breakfast in the station mess, and head out for a safety patrol on Sarasota Bay.
It was the first Saturday of fall, as it was measured in the temperate climes of Southwest Florida. Every year, between mid-October and early November, people wake up one morning and realize the humidity has dropped to the point that they don't break into a sweat simply by walking outside. Autumn has finally come to the peninsula, several weeks after the calendar suggested that summer had ended. The temperature will drop some more in the coming weeks, into the sixties and seventies. Occasionally, the cold fronts will move down from Canada and bring a chill to the subtropical air. But for the most part, the weather will be mild until the middle of May, when the humidity rises to levels that chase the less hardy back north.
Motes knew that the local boaters would be out in force on such a Saturday, rafting up on the sandbar just inside Longboat Pass or nosed onto Beer Can Island or fishing the offshore reefs in twenty feet of water or the back bay flats or tanking up at one of the local bars that provided docks for their boats. It was Motes's job to keep them safe, remind them to wear their life jackets, and not drink too much. It was a fine day to be an auxiliary-man, and Carl was looking forward to his tour of duty.
Motes spent his weekdays as a law professor, but his weekends were dedicated to his boat. He'd once been a fierce prosecutor, so was not unaccustomed to death or even to murder. But that was far from his mind as he steered his boat north along the narrow channel. The sun was hanging low on the eastern horizon, the water calm. A commercial mullet fisherman steered his boat across the flats separating the main channel from Longboat Key, his outboard emitting a high whine as he skimmed across the surface of the water.
Carl's first view of the body was from the periphery of his right eye, a quick impression of something out of the ordinary in the shallow water at the edge of the Intracoastal channel. He had been scanning the water off his bow, alert for any floating obstruction. The sight of the body registered on his brain after his eyes had moved on toward the middle of the channel. His head jerked back to the right, and he pulled the throttles into neutral. The boat, a thirty-foot center console with twin outboards, came off plane and settled into the water.
The manatees were migrating into the bay, searching out warmer water in which to spend the winter. They would travel south to the more temperate lagoon provided by the outfall of a power plant on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River. Sometimes they didn't make it. They became victims of boat propellers or waited too long in the cold waters of the Gulf of Mexico and died from injuries or pneumonia.
Motes sighed and eased his boat toward the carcass, saddened by another death of a gentle creature threatened with extinction. He'd get a line on the body to secure it in place and call the dispatcher at the Cortez Coast Guard station to deal with removing it.
Carl watched his depth sounder as he moved toward the body, careful of the bottom rising as he neared the edge of the channel. The carcass was coming into focus. It was small for a manatee. Probably a baby, Carl decided.
He was about ten feet from the body when a commercial fishing boat lumbered down the channel behind him. Carl felt his boat rise as the wake crossed under it, and watched as the wave continued, rolling over the body and turning it so that a face emerged briefly from the water. This was no manatee. It was the body of a human. A woman, probably.
Carl knew better than to disturb what might be a crime scene. He picked up the microphone of his marine radio, hailed the Coast Guard station at Cortez and described what he was seeing. The Coast Guard radioman — actually a young woman on that quiet fall morning — advised that she would contact the Longboat Key police, since the body was within their jurisdiction. Motes said he would stand by.
"Don't disturb the body," said the voice on the radio.
"Roger that," answered Motes.
A few minutes passed. A twenty-foot boat with four men aboard, their fishing hats pulled tight on their heads, rods and reels in their holders, passed by, slowed, noticed the uniform Carl was wearing, and heeded his signal to move on. They pulled off the channel near the southern end of Sister Key and waited, curious about the man in the uniform standing guard over something in the water.
It was quiet on the bay. A slight breeze picked up, blowing from the north, rippling the surface of the lagoon that separated Longboat Key from Sister Key. The sun was moving higher in the sky, painting the scudding clouds with orange and gold. A siren whooped in the distance, the sound coming from the south. Birds rose suddenly from their nests in the mangroves, startled by the shrill discord. Motes watched as a police boat came toward him at top speed, its bow cutting angrily through the green water of the bay, blue lights flashing. The picture of urgency.
The police boat came off plane as it approached, the officer at the helm gently easing his vessel next to Motes. "Morning, Carl."
"Morning, Dennis. This looks bad."
"It sure does. I'll get the detective and a crime-scene unit out here. Can you stick around and help keep the gawkers out of the way?"
"No problem," said Motes. "I'll get another auxiliary boat out here to help."CHAPTER 2
Detective Jennifer Diane Duncan rolled over in her bed and snuggled down a little farther under the light blanket. The sound of a powerboat on the bay floated gently through the morning air, reminding her that she lived in a paradise. Daylight was seeping through the window blinds, but she didn't have to get up. It was her day off, and she planned nothing more adventuresome than a trip to the Publix Market on Avenue of the Flowers at mid-key. She'd invited Matt Royal and Jock Algren for dinner that evening and she had to feed them something other than wine and beer. She yawned and settled a little deeper into her blanket, the air-conditioning cooling the room to a comfortable sleeping temperature.
The sharp wail of a siren brought her upright in the bed. It was a police siren, a different tone than that of the paramedics and firefighters. The sound was coming from the bay just outside her windows. Either the Coast Guard or one of the police agencies. Some sort of emergency on the water.
She got out of bed and padded to the sunporch of her condo overlooking Sarasota Bay. She grabbed the binoculars from a table and scanned to the south. She saw the blue lights flashing on a boat coming at speed, running north on the Intracoastal. As the vessel got closer, she recognized it as the Longboat Key police boat. She watched as it came off plane and moved toward another boat that was dead in the water. What was going on?
She moved the glasses a bit, searching the area around the boats. Nothing. Then she spotted something in the water. She was too far away to make it out. A dead manatee, perhaps, or a dolphin. But why the siren, the urgency? That only came when a human being was involved. She raised the binoculars to look at the island across the lagoon from where she lived, scanning, trying to see if anything was there, her cop instincts, honed by fifteen years in the business, telling her that something was wrong out on the water. She could see the object floating near the boat, but nothing more. Still, the siren and the police boat added an ominous feel to the scene, and her internal alarm bells were clanging loudly.
J.D. put down the binoculars, rubbed her eyes, and went to the bathroom. She shucked the T-shirt she had slept in and stepped into the shower. She knew from experience that she wouldn't be going to Publix that day.
She was stepping out of the shower when her phone rang. The expected call. She answered. It was Deputy Chief of Police Martin Sharkey. He'd been running the night crew of late, going on patrol, enjoying himself. It beat the paper pushing that had come with the rank.
"J.D., you up?"
"There's a body in the water off Sister Key."
"Yeah. I saw it."
"You saw it?"
"Yes. From my sunporch. Anything suspicious about it?"
"Yeah. Dennis says there's a bullet hole in the back of her head."
"Definitely a woman. The body's nude. When you're ready, call Dennis on his cell, and he'll run over and pick you up at your dock."
"I'll meet him there in ten minutes. Can you call him while I get dressed?"
"And, Martin, put a total blackout on this one. At least until we can talk. I don't want a bunch of gawkers."CHAPTER 3
I slept in that morning. Jock Algren and I had made a night of it at Tiny's, the neighborhood bar, and we hadn't left until owner Susie Vaught shooed us out. I was a bit hungover, but it had been a fun evening. Jock had arrived from Houston in the late afternoon. He hadn't visited the island in several weeks and wanted to catch up on the gossip. He had a lot of friends on Longboat Key, and everybody wanted to buy him a drink. By the end of the evening, he was floating on a sea of O'Doul's, the nonalcoholic beer he fancied, and I had pretty much finished off Susie's stock of Miller Lite.
I was puttering around in the kitchen, brewing coffee and getting some breakfast pastries. I heard Jock's shower running and knew he'd be joining me in a few minutes. If he doesn't get his coffee right away, he gets a bit testy.
My name is Matt Royal. I live on Longboat Key, an island off the southwest coast of Florida, south of Tampa Bay, about halfway down the peninsula. My key is ten miles long and no more than a half-mile wide at its broadest point. If you leave the island on the south end, you cross a couple of bridges, wind your way around St. Armands Circle, one of the best dining and shopping venues in Florida, cross another couple of bridges and find yourself in Sarasota. On the north end you cross the Longboat Pass Bridge to Anna Maria Island, drive into the beach town of Bradenton Beach, turn right, cross the Cortez Bridge, and end up in the aging fishing village of Cortez.
I was a soldier once, an officer in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the storied Green Berets. I saw some action, came home, and went to law school. I had been a trial lawyer in Orlando for a number of years until I tired of the rat race, lost my wife to divorce, said the hell with it, sold everything I had, and moved to paradise. I wasn't wealthy, but if I lived carefully, I wouldn't have to work for the rest of my life.
I'm six feet tall, and weigh the same 180 pounds I did when I got out of the army. I have dark hair and a slightly off-center nose. I run four miles on the beach most days and work out weekly with a martial arts instructor. I find that I have to push myself a bit or I'll succumb to the indolence that seems to be a part of island living.
Longbeach Village is the official name of my neighborhood, but everybody just calls it "the village." It takes up the far north end of Longboat Key and is the oldest inhabited part of the island. Not counting the Indians, of course, who had lived there for hundreds of years before the Europeans showed up. There are no condos in the village, and most of the houses are small and quaint, owned by a lot of people just like me who could never have afforded the expensive mansions and condos that took up most of our island. I owned a cottage that backed up to Sarasota Bay, giving me a view out my sliding glass doors that made me glad to be a Floridian. I never tired of watching the seabirds that nested on nearby Jewfish Key and the myriad boats that plied the Intracoastal Waterway.
My doorbell rang. I looked at my watch. Ten o'clock. I was wearing cargo shorts, a T-shirt with the logo of an island restaurant long out of business, and boat shoes. I opened the door to find a beautiful woman standing on the stoop. She was about five feet seven, and this morning her shoulder-length dark hair was fashioned in a ponytail. She was slender, her body honed by years of regular workouts. Her face was a bit pale, her green eyes troubled, and tension lines were etched around her mouth. She was the Longboat Key police department's only detective, and she was my friend. She wore a pair of jeans, a golf shirt, and running shoes. "Come in, J.D.," I said. "Are you okay?"
She came through the door, looked at me, and said one word. "Coffee."
"Coming up. Sit down. I'll be right back."
Jennifer Diane Duncan, known as J.D., had come to our key a year before. Her mom had lived among us for the last several years of her life, and when she died, J.D. inherited her condo.
J.D. was in her late thirties and had joined the Miami-Dade Police Department after receiving a degree in Criminal Justice from Florida International University. She'd risen quickly through the ranks, and after a couple of years as a patrol officer, became the youngest detective on the force. She worked in the fraud division for a while and then moved to homicide where she eventually became the assistant commander of the unit.
When her mom died, J.D. saw an opportunity to leave the stress and danger of the big city and move to Longboat Key. Bill Lester, the chief of police on the key, had jumped at the chance to hire her as Longboat's only detective. She had moved into her mom's condo and quickly became a part of our island community and my good friend. So far, our relationship hadn't moved beyond the friendship stage, and maybe it never would. But, a guy can hope, can't he?
I returned from the kitchen with two mugs of black coffee and handed one to her. I didn't say anything. She was obviously troubled, and I knew her well enough to know she would tell me what she thought I needed to know. I took a seat next to her on the sofa. I waited.
J.D. sat quietly for a few moments, sipping her coffee. "Did you ever see a ghost, Matt?"
"I did. This morning."
"Want to talk about it?"
"Twelve years ago, when I first made detective in Miami, I worked three murders that had taken place in about a six-week period. We called them the whale tail murders. Or at least, the press did. You know how they like to sensationalize everything. The cops picked it up."
"Each of the women was middle aged or older, and they were found naked and bound to trees with ropes. Shot in the back of the head by the same twenty-two-caliber pistol. They were always found near water, once a lake, another time on the Miami River, and the third time in the Everglades in the western part of the county. We were dealing with a serial killer with big-time issues, and we put a lot of effort into finding the guy."
"Did you get him?"
"No. The killings stopped. There were only those three women. The killer was very careful. He didn't leave any evidence behind, and we even had a hard time identifying the women. Turned out that one was a maid at a high-rise office building, another was a prostitute, and the third was the wife of an accountant who lived in Miami Lakes. We never found any connection between the women. Except that they all had a similar appearance. Caucasian, fairly tall, between forty and fifty-five, shoulder-length hair dyed blonde."
"Why the name, whale tail?"
"That was very strange. The killer pinned an identical small silver whale tail earring through the lobe of his victims' left ears. The medical examiner said they were all done postmortem. We never figured out if the killer was trying to tell us something or if the whale tail had some deep meaning for him. Even the profilers couldn't come up with anything that made any sense."
"And the press got hold of that little detail?"
"Yeah. One of the reporters interviewed the husband of the first victim. He mentioned that she did not own any jewelry that looked like a whale tail."
Excerpted from Fatal Decree by H. Terrell Griffin. Copyright © 2013 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
LOVE Matt Royal, I'm a die hard fan,
I love this kind of book. In the everglades and small town mystery. I would read more from this author. Lots of twists and turns. Problem is I read to fast and just hate to reach the end.
Enjoyed it. Would read again.
Last year, I stumbled upon the Matt Royal series by author H. Terrell Griffin. The novels follow Matt Royal, a middle-aged lawyer who, fed up with the state of the legal system, retired to the small island of Longboat Key, Florida. But small town life didn't stop Royal from finding excitement. Over the course of six novels, Matt found himself directly involved in conspiracies that rocked his hometown. Through his friendship with Bill Lester, Longboat Key's chief of police, and with the help of his drinking buddy Logan, and his friend Jock, who conveniently works for a top secret, high ranking government agency, Matt became a kind of extension of the local law enforcement. Things seemed to change when J.D. Duncan, a female detective from Miami, joined the Longboat Key force. Her addition, and insistent moral code, caused Matt to not only re-evaluate his actions, but to discover emotions he thought he would never feel again. In Fatal Decree, the latest novel to feature Royal, we find the characters facing the biggest mystery they have ever faced. When the body of a local woman is discovered floating in the bay, Matt is immediately called by J.D. It turns out, the body has a whale tail earring in her ear, and the initials KKK carved into the back of her neck. Even more terrifying, this is the signature of of a serial killer from Miami who J.D. investigated, and who hasn't been active for years. Now Matt must help solve the case before more islanders or killed. He hates to imagine the worst, but he is scared that the killer may target J.D. next. I was completely invested in this series the moment I began reading. Unlike other series authors, Griffin has managed to maintain his standards of both quality and content. Seven books in, he still manages to explore unique cases and take his characters into different emotional territory. It was really nice to see Matt and J.D.'s budding relationship come to a head, especially because it didn't play out in the predictable way I feared it was going to. Griffin love of Florida and the people who inhabit it is made obvious by his detailed descriptions of settings and the inclusion of small town characters that give the sometimes outlandish story a much needed dose of reality. With Fatal Decree, Griffin proves that he is very much at the top of his game. Any fan of fast paced and original mysteries is sure to enjoy this novel. .
Fatal Decree: A Matt Royal Mystery by H. Terrell Griffin 4 STARS This is my first Matt Royal Mystery but not my last. I found that I had two others on my kindle that I will read next. Fatal Decree I believe is the 6th Matt Royal Mystery. Thier are a lot of characters that fans of the series has already met in detail. Fatal Decree can stand alone but I want to go back and read the books before in the series. I like Matt and his friends. They have some very powerful friends in high places. Thier was no way I would have guessed who the killer was and why. It is full of drama,action,police detective,secret goverment agencies,drug dealers,murders. Did not want to put the book down until I had finshed reading it. Description When a serial killer shows up on Longboat Key, Florida after a twelve year absence, Matt Royal is stymied. The first woman killed on Longboat Key has ties to a secretive government agency for which Matt's best friend Jock Algren works. Was this a coincidence or was she a targeted kill? Matt's friend, Longboat Key detective Jennifer Diane (J.D.) Duncan investigates the murders but also seems to be a target of the killer. Why? And where has the killer been for the past twelve years? And why has he come to Longboat Key when his earlier kills were all in Miami? The mystery deepens when Guatemalan gang-bangers try to kill Matt and J.D. and suspicions grow that Mexican drug cartels are somehow involved. The director of Jock's agency orders him to do whatever is necessary to find the killer because of the death of the woman with connections to the agency. Will Jock simply take out the murderer or allow J.D. and the law to arrest, try and convict the bad guys? Matt's life is further complicated by J.D.'s growing dissatisfaction with island living and her thoughts of returning to Miami. (Taken off Netgalley site about Fatal Decree) Matt Royal is retired lawyer and loyal friend. He is divorced and a beach bum is his discription. Jock Algren works for secret goverment agency and when he is between assignments lives on the island in Matt's house. Diane (J.D.) Duncan Matt's friend who he wants to be closer too but does not want to ruin friendship. She is the Island's detective. Someone wants her dead. Her boss is Matt's friend too. The one thing that I did not like is that clue about what was going to go wrong with thier plan. Matt hinted a lot of different times about what was going to happen. Just a little complaint. I would love to live on Longboat Key, Florida too especially after the foot of snow in my yard this week. I was given this ebook to read and asked to give honest review of it when I was done by Netgalley. Publisher: Oceanview Publishing (January 15, 2013) 340 pages ISBN: 1608090701