The Amendment Killer (Brooks/Lotello Thriller #1), by Ronald S. Barak

Nine stars

I chose to re-read this piece after reading the series prequel, oddly released AFTER this book. Highly recommend doing things in that order, as this novel offers new and rich additions with the understanding of ‘The Puppet Master’.

Ronald S. Barak presents readers with a sensational novel that delves into the world of US constitutional politics, kidnapping, and a developing courtroom drama. When a girl is taken from off the street on her way to school, no one seems to notice. The country’s attention turns towards Washington, D.C., more specifically the US Supreme Court, where a monumental case is about to be argued before the nine justices. The premise surrounds the introduction of the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution, which seeks to tighten the responsibilities of congressional members. The controversy surrounds not only the content of the amendment, but that it was not introduced by Congress and the state assemblies. The National Organization for Political Integrity (NoPoli) chose to hold a constitutional convention with delegates of its fifty state branches, crafting and passing the aforementioned amendment. Having made its way through the lower courts, it is now time for the nine justices to rule not only on the right of Congress to sue on constitutional grounds, but also on the content of the 28th Amendment. With such an impact on the future of America, the case is being carried live on television for everyone to see, as it develops. During the Chief Justice’s opening remarks, Justice Arnold Hirschfeld’s cell phone buzzes with a text; his granddaughter, Cassie, has been kidnapped and the only way she will be returned safely is when the amendment is quashed. Panicked, Justice Hirschfeld must follow the rules laid out for him, but makes some veiled contact to ensure that his family is aware of the situation. While not wanting to tip his hand to what’s going on, Justice Hirschfeld reaches out to have an investigation commenced, though the burner phones being used and lack of substantial clues makes finding Cassie all the more difficult. Lawyers for NoPoli and Congress battle it out, exploring what the Founding Fathers might have meant with Article 5 of the US Constitution and trying to parse out a modern day solution, all in a compacted oral argument setting, where justices openly hurl questions at the attorneys, who seek to maximise their allotted time. While arguments continue in the Court, Cassie is being kept in a secluded location, unsure why she’s been targeted. What she does know is that her diabetes will not remain under control if this lasts much longer. Bonding with her captor, Cassie is able to soon learn that her grandfather’s role in the current set of legal arguments could lead to her freedom, or untimely demise. Working off the radar while media outlets start sniffing around, Metro Homicide Detective Frank Lotello tries to craft an agreement to ensure that Cassie is released and Justice Hirschfeld can sway his colleagues. However, the constitutional arguments are compelling, forcing many to wonder why oral arguments show Hirschfeld speaking against everything he appears to hold dear. In the shadows, someone is trying to push for this amendment nullification, but at whose request? Will the Court rule properly on this monumental case and allow young Cassie the freedom she deserves? Barak has stitched together this wonderful novel that captures the reader’s attention from the outset and does not release its grip until the final pages. Highly recommended for those who love legal thrillers with a constitutional flavour, as well as the reader who find crime thrillers to their liking.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me the first go round, feeling that I might enjoy both its legal and criminal aspects. I had it sitting on my TBR list for a while, wanting to find myself in the right mood before diving in. Why I waited so long I will never know. As stated above, this book really should be grabbed after its more recently released prequel, in order to get the full impact. Barak is able to pull the reader into the middle of this book, whetting an appetite for detailed discussion of constitutional practices, as well as using the US Supreme Court as a central tool to deliver some of the important impetus to keep the narrative flowing. Barak utilises the subplot of Cassie’s kidnapping to keep the story balanced and allow the reader to enjoy a well-rounded piece, as though to dilute some of the legal and constitutional arguments that fill many chapters. Barak effectively crafts a set of characters who mesh well together, but whose individual stories come together in a seamless manner. This gives the reader the chance to better understand those they find interesting and push aside those who do not pique their interest. In a story full of legal tangents, Barak keeps the reader guessing and wondering how things will resolve themselves. Fast-paced with a narrative benefitting both short and longer chapters, Barak paces the story well with time stamps, showing the slow (and quick) progression of the case before the Court’s expedited decision. With Cassie’s life on the line, the reader will surely push through this one to discover the monumental finality of this first-rate novel, as well as all the hints peppered throughout relating to the previous novel.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for such an impactful story. I will have to find some of your other work and devour it in short order. I’m eager to see what else you can bring to life with your superior writing style.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: