The Big Lie: A Jack Swyteck Novel

  • By James Grippando
  • Harper
  • 368 pp.
  • Reviewed by Marvin McIntyre
  • April 3, 2020

Imagine if the outcome of an election hinged on nefarious dealings in Florida. Yes, imagine.

The Big Lie: A Jack Swyteck Novel

When you work a couple of blocks from the White House, it’s almost expected that you’re a political junkie. All it took was the inside of the book jacket of James Grippando’s The Big Lie to make me hit the pause button on the novel I was currently reading and start this one instead. Actually, the title alone, with “LIE” in large letters, gives more than a hint that politics is involved.

Many years ago, I read a few of Grippando’s books, and I remember enjoying them, but not to the level that they became must-reads. Still, I wasn’t surprised to note that the prolific author is a New York Times best seller. So, picking up The Big Lie was like visiting an old friend: Would he have aged gracefully or just recycled plots to meet a deadline?

The author’s intriguing premise involves the Electoral College and whether a state’s elector (in this case, Florida) has the right to vote his or her conscience rather than the collective will of the voters. No hanging chads, no recounts. The election is over, and the boorish, repugnant incumbent lost the popular vote by 5 million but won the Electoral College. Game over!

Not so fast. Even though electors are sworn to uphold the will of their voters, what if one changes his or her mind? And what if others follow suit?

Perhaps a sign of Grippando’s brilliance is that a reader’s thoughts do not necessarily remain within the confines of the plot. Given the recent partisan impeachment trial, which had a negligible chance of conviction, it’s not too farfetched to imagine the Electoral College being co-opted. No need to eliminate it if it can simply be subverted.

I loved this plotline, as its hypothesis guarantees a flurry of conjecture about how an elector could be influenced: Blackmail, intimidation, bribery…any of the possibilities could make foreign interference in our elections irrelevant. Given that, what lengths might the opposing party go to in order to ensure a wavering elector stayed in line?

As expected, all of the action occurs within the short span between the election and the time that the Electoral College confirms the results. The novel’s protagonist, Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck, appears competent, yet he’s not the prototypical “don’t mess with me” hero that’s a staple of thrillers. His work in the courtroom is engaging but lacking in a-ha moments.

On the other hand, his client, the pistol-packing gun lobbyist Charlotte Holmes, seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself even as the danger escalates. To complicate her crisis of conscience, the beneficiary of her actions, Florida Senator Evan Stahl — who, with Holmes’ changed vote, will win the Sunshine State and the presidency — is rumored to have had an extramarital affair with a man.

While this thriller has all the necessary elements — including drug lords, torture, and assassins — plausibility suffered, for me, with the author’s depiction of the sinister, corrupt incumbent president, Malcolm MacLeod. Is it possible to create a character who makes our current commander-in-chief look genteel?

Oh, ye of little faith, just wait until you wade into The Big Lie.

Fiction-oholics like myself tend to become fans of their favorite writers, and unless or until they’re thoroughly disappointed, they’ll blindly order those authors’ every new release. Although James Grippando is certainly not new, the Swyteck series was new to me.

I started reading The Big Lie on a two-and-a-half-hour flight, and I was finished 48 hours later. The tension and twists might not measure up to my favorite authors — such as Sandford, Crais, Deaver, Dugoni, Gardner, and Coben — but the story was definitely entertaining.

Want to read a novel that makes your hair stand on end? Try the Jack Swyteck series. I’m already on book three out of 16.

Marvin McIntyre has written three well-received financial and political thrillers.

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