Justice Returns (Ben Kincaid #19), by William Bernhardt

Nine stars

After a significant hiatus, William Bernhardt is back with another Ben Kincaid courtroom thriller that will surely envelop the reader throughout this high-impact novel. Ben Kincaid enjoys work in Oklahoma City, with his law firm and handful of clients. While he enjoys dabbling in criminal law, he’ll take what he can get. While in the middle of a civil trial, Kincaid is warned about a potential client waiting in his office, one that could cause him many headaches. Rushing back to see what’s going on, Kincaid comes face to face with Omar ‘Oz’ al-Jabbar, a man he knew back in high school before his conversion to Islam. Oz recounts a horrible tale about being interrogated by the CIA for 21 days, where numerous ‘enhanced’ techniques were used. In charge of the interrogation was one Abdul Nazir, once working for Hussein’s Iraqi Forces, but now one of the Agency’s most productive representatives. After weighing his options and being influenced by members of his family, Kincaid agrees to file suit against the US Government, a long-shot but one that might force the CIA’s hand to admit wrongdoing. US Attorney Roger Thrillkill is happy to bury these allegations as nothing but a vendetta for a man who was hiding essential information. During a press conference, Thrillkill begins fanning the flames about American security in the face of terrorists, all to entice media coverage. To add to the dramatic effect, Thrillkill is happy to allow Nazir a chance to speak. Soon thereafter, a shot rings out, Nazir is dead, and Oz is holding the murder weapon. What was a civil matter has now turned criminal, with the US Attorney filing capital charges. Now, Kincaid must decide if he is ready to defend a former friend, whose life is on the line. This is more than a murder trial, even one with capital implications. It pits the American view of Muslims against the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. If that were not enough, one of the young Kincaid twins is exhibiting some odd behaviours, which has Ben wondering if there may be something significantly wrong. With a trial before him Ben Kincaid will have to hope for a miracle, with the country watching his every move. Series fans and those who love a courtroom drama will appreciate this book, full of political undertones and an ending that is as explosive as they come.

I am a long time Bernhardt fan, particularly of his Ben Kincaid novels, which always mix social issues with some of the best courtroom writing I have ever read. The reader is pulled not only into the middle of the case, but also can witness the banter of the trial as it progresses. Ben Kincaid has been around for a longtime, his legal demeanour quite subdued, but his passion for the law ever-present. Series fans will have seen much progress throughout (and now into the 19th novel), but this piece offers both development and some significant backstory from a time Kincaid would likely prefer to forget. Added to that, the new role of father and the struggles that this entails, Ben Kincaid has become a complex and quite endearing character. Most stories are full of strong secondary characters and this is no exception, be it the countless witnesses on both sides, the prosecutor who seeks to discredit everything, as well as Kincaid’s strong support base, who have been with him from the early days. The story comes to life through these characters, as do the numerous struggles. The story is, in my opinion, long overdue and while it rehashes a subject I have long since tired reading about (the America versus Muslim world clash), it is less ISIS and more civil and constitutional rights. Bernhardt does not hold back in his strong social commentary about the rights of Americans and anyone in the world, particularly at the hands of American agents. As discussed throughout, fundamental rights enshrined in the US Constitution are not afforded to Americans when it is deemed a matter of security. Added to that, the ongoing thumbing of noses towards Geneva Conventions and the interesting means by which US Administrations can spin things to meet their needs. One other central issue at the beginning of the novel pertained to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, read: torture, and how some in the Administration feel security weighs more heavily than rights. That’s a matter for the reader to ponder here and for themselves, but I found many of the comments within this novel echoed some of the sentiments I have had for over a decade, though I am sure my being Canadian, many would want me to keep my mouth closed on US matters.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for a stunning novel that shook me to my core. I have been waiting patiently for another Ben Kincaid piece and am so happy you’ve found the time to craft it for your many fans!

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