JK’s Code (Brooks/Lotello #4), by Ronald S. Barak

Eight stars

Ronald S. Barak is back with another explosive thriller that mixes politics, technology, and a dash of satire to entertain a the reader effectively. Jake Klein is a computer genius at only twenty. He scores a lucrative invite to a secret conference on election meddling and takes away more than a few pointers on how to rig an election, including backdoor access into a highly dangerous hacker’s computer. Jake soon learns of a plan by the Russians to once again influence and meddle in the upcoming 2020 US election, which is backed by the current POTUS. Trying to get the message out, Jake is soon discovered and two superpower governments seek to neutralise him for all he knows. With Election Day approaching, he will have to act swiftly, or face another four years of horrible leadership. Barak knows how to convey a wonderful story with a twist to keep the reader engaged.

Jake Klein knows his way around a computer, even at a young age. Known to those around him as JK, Jake finds himself tripping upon a private conference in Eastern Europe whose aim is to highlight how to rig elections through voting machines. When he scores an invite, Jake is ready to take the information and ensure it is passed along to those who need it.

While at the conference, JK takes the bold move of installing a tracker on the computer of a powerful hacker, just to see what he can discover. When he is back in the US, JK learns just how dangerous things can get, as he uncovers plans to infiltrate the 2020 US election once more. Led by the Russians, with full support of the current US Administration, the plan would be to use voting machines to skew results and leave a destructive leader in the White House. As JK trie to stop this, he is discovered by powerful sources in each government, making him a wanted man.

While JK tries to dodge those who are after him, he confides in his sister about what is going on. She, in turn, entrusts the help of others around her to locate and rescue JK before it’s too late. Talk of assassination, treason, and permanent incarceration circle around, while JK is being held captive. Knowing what he is doing is for the good of the many, Jake stops at nothing to ensure that the truth comes out, or that election results are not tainted ahead of this most important election for America. Ronald S. Barak does well to keep the reader engaged, adding his own spin on events in the not too distant past.

I stumbled upon the world of Ronald S. Barak a few years ago and was immediately hooked. His mix of law, politics, and satire had me wanting to know more as quickly as I could. This is another great book that packs a punch, while also conveying some of the seriousness that befell the US election system, with some spewing “fix” on both sides. A strong narrative and highly detailed plot keeps the reader engaged and curious as to how things will progress, which is just the kind of book I needed. Eager to see what else Barak has in store for this series, which took a turn away from the strict legal storyline.

Jake Klein (JK) plays a wonderful protagonist in this piece, offering up some great backstory and development throughout. Young and keenly aware of his surroundings, JK can tap into things with ease and expound on them. He is attune to the world around him, yet somewhat naive when it comes to life, as is shown throughout this piece. Relying on the help of others, JK makes his mark and uses his brains to face-off against two powerful entities, both with plans to annihilate him, given then chance.

Legal thrillers are definitely my cup of tea, given the chance to get lost in their storylines. Ronald S. Barak has done well with his past stories, but spins things in this one, while adding some satire to what was a highly tense 2020 US election campaign. His narrative in this piece flows well and kept me on my toes throughout, never sure in which direction he would take things. The plot seemed clear, but definitely had some twists to keep things interesting. Mixing chapter lengths, Barak tears the reader to “read a little more”, which was his stated goal in the author’s introduction. Adding that satirical side is sure to anger some who would don their silly red ball caps, but that is perhaps the point. I liked the blend of serious topic and lighthearted banter, which made reading this book all the easier for me.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for another winner. Bring on more, as I am eager to see where things will go in this series.

The Puppet Master (Brooks/Lotello Thriller #0.5), by Ronald S. Barak

Nine stars

In a prequel novel to his legal thriller series, Ronald S. Barak offers readers a high-impact piece that spans the entire police procedural and legal processes. When a prominent US senator is murdered, the D.C. community takes notice. Metro PD Detective Frank Lotello is assigned the case and begins a thorough investigation. Lotello, a recent widower, is still struggling with the loss of his wife and must redefine his job as he raises two children. After two other people with ties to America’s financial fortunes are slain, people begin to wonder if there is a spree killer on the loose. Even more baffling is the message left about the victims deserving to die as ‘Ryan’ did. When a man is seen uttering similar messages around the Capitol, he is taken into custody and eventually charged with the murder. However, things are not as cut and dry as they seem. U.S. District Judge Cyrus Brooks soon learns this, having been assigned the murder trial. When the Public Defender advocates a justifiable homicide defence, many look shocked, though the constitutionality soon becomes apparent. While awaiting the trial, Detective Lotello is contacted anonymously with information that may shed some light on the murders, something that could provide significant reasonable doubt. While dubious in its ethical nature, Lotello and Brooks converse, applying pressure to allow additional investigations. Could there be someone else behind the killings, using the accused as a patsy? Once the trial begins, Brooks takes control in the courtroom, allowing strong arguments on both sides before he tosses the case to the jury. It is here that things get even more interesting. Brooks, Lotello, and many others await the decision of the twelve, whose verdict could have high-reaching results. Barak does well to create a thriller whose slow development acts as a great marinade before delivering a impactful final twist. Recommended for those who love legal thrillers, particularly the reader who found Barak’s first novel (which follows this one chronologically) to their liking.

Ronald S. Barak crossed my radar a while back, when he introduced readers to his Frank Lotello/Cyrus Brooks duo. This legal thriller series, while still in its infancy, has some great plots, enveloped in great police work and supported by wonderful narration. Barak steps back from his previous publication to offer the reader a better look into the lives of his two protagonists. Lotello is a man who is still reeling from his wife’s death, something the reader can ascertain as he has numerous conversations with her throughout the case. Lotello balances work with raising a family on his own, though does not let either task hamper the other. With an acute sense of all aspects of a criminal investigation, Lotello is like a dog with a bone, chasing leads and following up on sketchy people of interest as he seeks to uncover the truth. His diligence may not always pay-off, but Lotello’s impact can be felt throughout the novel. Lotello is contrasted nicely by Judge Cyrus Brooks, a man whose legal training has led him to create a no-nonsense courtroom. Brooks knows the rules and sticks to them, usually, while also realizing that not all defendants (or their counsel) are created equally. A fan of explaining every step of the legal process to the jury, Brooks educates the reader alongside them, as the case progresses. His handle of the court will likely impress the reader as they meander through all the evidence on offer. The story here is quite well developed, advancing on many levels through chapters of different lengths. Some are simple phone conversations while others are thorough explorations of the courtroom developments, through banter between counsel and witnesses. Barak keeps the reader captivated throughout, as the evidence mounts and the jury is presented with much. By the time the case goes to the jury, the reader likely has their own impressions. Little is left to chance while being sequestered, with a wonderful exploration of deliberations before a final set of twists to end the case. I’ll surely re-read the follow-up novel to get the full impact of the series, happy to have found another author who knows how to write comprehensive legal/courtroom thrillers that leaves no stone unturned.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for your stellar writing. I hope others find this series in the coming months. I must ask… why release the prequel after the series debut? This piece is so full of important information that is relevant what ended up being the debut. I am baffled!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons