The Hidden Key

About The Hidden Key (Camel Press; on-sale April 14, 2020)

When Navy veteran Kevin Jones answers the door for two men he doesn’t know, he can’t foresee the Pandora’s Box he’s opening. One week later, attorney Steve Stilwell meets with a billionaire businessman in a London eatery. As two men burst into the restaurant, Steve’s new client cries out “I’ve sold my soul.” Moments later he is dead, leaving Steve to figure out why.

Steve finds his first clue in a package addressed to his dead client containing an ancient map etched into a clay tablet. Soon powerful people descend on him and his wounded warrior law partner, Casey Pantel, to take the tablet from them. Not knowing who can be trusted and who should be feared, they dig deeper and deeper to decipher the tablet’s secrets. Their quest takes them along a trail of murder and intrigue winding from Italy to India. With time running out and their own motives being questioned, Steve and Casey must unmask those seeking to exploit the tablet’s secrets before they, too, fall victim to its power.

The Hidden Key is the third novel in the Steve Stilwell series.


My Review

This is the first book I have read in this series. I had no problems jumping right into this book. Although, having not read the prior novels, I can't say if it hurt any with not having that established relationship with the main character, Steve Stilwell. I say "maybe" only because I have jumped into series before and instantly connected with the main character. In this case, it was not instant.

The pacing of this story was good. It moved fast without really getting hung up on details or dialect. I was intrigued by the storyline and curious as to how it would all play out in the end. So, you might be wondering why I was middle of the road on my feelings towards this book. This is because; despite the fact that I liked the storyline and thought Steve was good, I found myself not engaging but only half way into the overall experience of this book. None of the other characters helped to engage my interest in the story. However, I would try another book from Mr. Grogan. In fact, I may go back and check out the prior two novels in this series.


About the author

David E. Grogan was born in Rome, New York, and was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from the College of William & Mary in Virginia, he began working for the accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co., in Houston, Texas, as a Certified Public Accountant. He left Arthur Andersen in 1984 to attend the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia, graduating in 1987. He earned his Master’s Degree in International Law from The George Washington University Law School and is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Grogan served on active duty in the United States Navy for over 26 years as a Navy Judge Advocate. During the course of his Navy career, he prosecuted and defended court-martial cases; negotiated agreements in capitals around the world; lived abroad in Japan, Cuba and Bahrain; deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf onboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise; and actively contributed to the fight against piracy and international terrorism. His experiences abroad and during the course of his career influence every aspect of his writing. The Hidden Key is his third novel. His first two novels were Sapphire Pavilion and The Siegel Dispositions.

Grogan’s current home is in Savoy, Illinois, where he lives with his wife and their dog, Marley. He has three children. His website is davidegrogan.com.


10:32 p.m. on Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Independence, Missouri 

The doorbell to the brown-shingle bungalow rang just as Kevin Jones settled deep into his leather sofa to watch the Late Show. Alfalfa, his six-year-old yellow lab, didn’t alert to the visitors before the doorbell rang. Now he sprang from his blanket on the far side of the living room and charged the front door, barking as he crossed the room and positioning himself to welcome whoever was there. 
“Who in the world can that be at this time of night?” Jones asked Alfalfa as he got up to answer the door. He didn’t care that he was wearing only an undershirt and jeans. When someone came by this late on a Wednesday night, they took him as he was. He set the can of beer he had just popped open on the coffee table’s glass top, turned down the TV’s volume, and headed for the door. “This better be important.” More out of habit than necessity, he turned on the living room ceiling light with the switch by the front door. 
Jones reached down and grabbed Alfalfa by the collar and forced him to sit. Alfalfa whimpered but begrudgingly complied. “Now you be good,” he cautioned Alfalfa. The lab looked at him with his big brown eyes, eager to please and even more eager to see who was there. He let loose a staccato bark, still sitting with Jones restraining him by his collar. 
When Jones opened the door, two men he didn’t recognize stood before him, their faces illuminated by the front porch light protruding from the siding just above their heads. Both men, one black and one white, looked to be in their mid-thirties. They both wore jeans while the African-American man added a lightweight navy blue jacket, wet from drizzle. His partner had closely cropped sandy blond hair and sideburns. Jones surmised they were Marines he’d met in Iraq, although he couldn’t place either man’s face or fathom how they might have found his house. 
Neither looked like he was coming to visit a fellow veteran. They appeared instead as if they had something they needed to get done, and that something involved Jones. He suddenly felt vulnerable, like when he was exposed to Iraqi mortar fire randomly pocketing patches of desert. He never knew if the patch he occupied would take the next hit. Alfalfa began an uncharacteristic growl, showing his teeth. 
Jones’ instinct told him to slam the door. He felt his right arm trying to throw the door shut until his rational self took control and held the door open just in case these were kindred military spirits. That left him with only one defense—show no sign of weakness or fear. If they were there to roll him, he had to make them believe it wouldn’t be easy. He and Alfalfa would make them feel pain, and his chiseled upper body, accentuated by an undershirt one size too small, reinforced the message. 
“It’s pretty late to be ringing doorbells,” Jones began, stooping just enough to restrain Alfalfa by the collar. 
“You Kevin Jones?” the man in the jacket asked, ignoring Jones’ remonstrance. 
“Yeah, that’s me. Who’s askin’?” 
“You advertised a clay brick on the Internet and we want to see it.” The man in the jacket did all the talking, while his buddy stood behind him, staring at Alfalfa. Alfalfa’s growl grew meaner. Jones didn’t do anything to discourage his dog’s warning, especially after what he’d just heard. He hadn’t posted his name or address in the ad, so he figured these guys had to be undercover cops. There was no way he was going to own up to posting the ad, especially since it had to do with a clay tablet he’d smuggled into the United States from Iraq when he and his Seabee unit returned from the war. 
“Not me. I got nothin’ posted online.” 
“Look, man,” the guy continued. “We know you got a brick to sell, so cut the shit and let’s talk business.” 
“Like I said, you got the wrong person.” Jones reached out and tried to shove the door closed, but the guy in the jacket stuck out his work boot and stopped the door short of closing. Jones wished he’d followed his initial instinct and slammed the door in their faces. Now it was too late. 
The man reached forward and shoved the door open, leveraging his way partially inside. Alfalfa barked and then lunged at the intruder. Jones, still holding onto Alfalfa’s collar, yanked him back. Alfalfa’s growl grew deeper and more vicious. The intruder took a half step back, leaving his other foot in place so Jones couldn’t close the door. His accomplice moved up close behind him. The two men looked like they were ready to exploit the open door and force their way inside. 
“Here’s how we’re doing this,” the intruder commanded. “We’re coming in and you’re get’n us that brick. Then I give you one hundred bucks and we leave.” He forced a grin. “Now ain’t that easy?” 
Jones flashed a defiant smile. “How about you guys piss off or I call the cops. That’s easy too, ain’t it?” 
The intruder shed his grin and stepped forward, pushing Jones away from the door and bumping into Jones’ shoulder in a display of machismo as he strutted to the center of the room. His accomplice moved to block the door, coming in just far enough to close it behind him. The intruder spoke as he pivoted to face Jones. 
"Look man, we both know you ain’t calling no cops. What you gonna do, tell ‘em somebody’s trying to steal the brick you stole from Iraq?” He laughed at the irony.
“Come on, man, you’re smarter than that. Just get me the brick.” 

Jones knew if something went down, it would turn out badly since he had no way to escape. He would just have to play along until they made a mistake he or Alfalfa could take advantage of. Alfalfa was ready, too. For the first time in his life, the usually friendly lab seemed primed to tear into someone. It was all Jones could do to hold him back. 
“So how do I know you ain’t cops?” 
“You don’t,” the accomplice countered for the first time. “But it don’t matter, ‘cause one way or another, we’re taking us a brick, ain’t we Charles?” He smiled and laughed a foul laugh, like one that presaged evil.

Excerpted from THE HIDDEN KEY Copyright © 2020 by David E. Grogan. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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