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Review: 'The Alligator Man'<i> </i>by James Sheehan thrills to the very end

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Published Oct. 8, 2013

There are plenty of people who would like to murder Roy Johnson.

The "gazillionaire" was the former "CEO of Dynatron, a major energy company... that employed over twenty thousand people." Johnson left it in shambles, and its employees shafted, when he cashed out with a hundred million dollars.

Trophy wife in tow, he has retired to solitary splendor in the fictional small Florida burg of Gladestown, on the edge of the Everglades. Then one night he takes a tipsy walk down a road through a gator-filled swamp — and doesn't come back.

Johnson thus becomes the title character in James Sheehan's fourth novel, The Alligator Man. Sheehan is a former trial lawyer who now directs the Tampa Law Institute at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa and lives in St. Petersburg, and he brings plenty of expertise and a dry sense of humor to this deft legal thriller.

Johnson's wife reports his absence to Carlisle Buchanan, "the sheriff's man in Gladestown." He's a laconic, resourceful native who knows both the mangrove swamps and the local residents like the back of his hand. Carlisle proceeds to conduct an investigation, much to the annoyance of the detective sent to do so.

Meanwhile, Miami lawyer Kevin Wylie has lost his job at a big but sketchy law firm, and his girlfriend has dumped him. He heads to the Panhandle — St. Albans, home base of Dynatron — for a possible reconciliation with, or at least interrogation of, his dying father, whom he hasn't seen since Dad, also a lawyer, abandoned him 28 years ago.

Carlisle's case and Kevin's concerns will merge and lead to the novel's centerpiece, the trial of the man accused of murdering Johnson.

The courtroom action is compelling, but what Carlisle is up to down in the Glades will have a major impact on the case as well. And Sheehan keeps the surprises — some scary, some bittersweet — coming to the very last page.