INTENT TO KILL. By James Grippando. Harper/HarperCollins. May, 2009. 368 pages. $25.99.

James Grippando’s Intent to Kill is fixed firmly in the thriller genre, but with more twists than most.

The lead character, Ryan James, is a baseball star who has suffered tragic loss with the death of his wife in a hit-and-run accident — and not handled it as well as he might. At first he seems a rather one-dimensional character, as this description would suggest:

“At six feet three inches and 220 pounds of athletic ability, Ryan had once been in the enviable position of fighting off football and basketball recruiters before he accepted a baseball scholarship to the University of Texas, where he had plenty of fun fighting off the women. . . .”

But as the complexities of the plot unfold, Ryan engages our sympathy. He’s haunted by his wife’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. Was it a hit-and-run and, if so, who was the culprit?

Three years have passed by the time the story really begins, and Ryan has dropped out of baseball as a player and become a radio personality. But a trial attorney in the Rhode Island attorney general’s office, Emma Carlisle, has also never given up on the case, and we go rocketing off with both of them on Grippando’s thriller ride.

And here, dear reader, we must leave any further description of the plot, because the whole point of novels like this is not to know where the road leads, but to think you might.

Along the way, we learn bags and bags about baseball, since one of the characters is a walking, talking lexicon on its arcane skills. If baseball excites you, you’ll relax into the warm embrace of these details. If not, the plot will carry you through.

Either way, you don’t come to a book such as this searching for deep literary insights. The writing is perfectly adequate to carry the story along and that’s the point of the exercise. Now and again, Grippando has a dash at humor or a splash at local color. Neither quite hits the mark, but who cares?

It’s summer, you have a lobster roll in one hand, Intent to Kill in the other — and baseball on the radio. All’s well with the world.


Geoff Cousins, a former CEO at George Patterson and Optus in Australia, is an occasional Vineyard visitor and author of a novel, The Butcherbird.