Review

Capitol Conspiracy

by William Bernhardt

In
William Bernhardt’s CAPITOL CONSPIRACY, Ben Kincaid is still
seated as the junior United States senator from Oklahoma, finishing
out the previous Senator’s term. He has married Christina,
the love of his life, professional partner and alter ego. Jones,
his computer-hacking office manager, is also on the scene. Loving,
his intrepid investigator, is still rolling with the punches. And
best friend Major Mike Morelli is now part of Washington’s
official security staff. The novel opens in Oklahoma on the site of
the Oklahoma City bombing. “It was a magnificent memorial,
the largest of its kind in the United States, designed to honor the
fallen, the survivors, the rescuers, and everyone else whose life
had been indelibly changed by the tragedy.”


The President, the First Lady, senators and other luminaries are on
the stage taking their seats as they wait for the speeches to
begin. The security is as tight as humanly possible until an agent
breaks protocol in an almost unnoticeable way. But someone does
see, and that person confronts the agent, who just ignores him.
Before another word can be spoken, the President makes his way to
the podium. A shot breaks the silence.


In this post-9/11 world, people immediately think
“terrorists.” Pandemonium ensues. There’s
screaming, running, absolute confusion and disbelief as more shots
explode, creating so much noise that the gunfire sounds like a
fusillade coming down on the heads of the crowd. In a brave effort
to keep the President safe, Mike Morelli is critically wounded.
Ben’s thoughts run from blaming himself for the current
tragedy to “the attack [that] had been a nightmare. A
national nightmare, true…but one he experienced first
hand… his cheek still stung where the bullet had grazed
him… [his most] haunting memory [was of] all those men ---
dropping…before his eyes.” How does one recover from
witnessing and being part of such carnage?


And where in the melee is the head of Homeland Security? Why
isn’t he at his assigned location? Nobody could guess that a
madman who calls himself “General” has tortured him to
death. With his last words he whispers what General wants to
know.


“The Patriot Act had granted the FBI…enhanced powers,
[especially] the ability to wiretap with more leniency and to
monitor private Internet activity… it was almost no
time…before the FBI was using the ‘sneak and
peek’ provision…to search houses while residents were
absent…or snooping into individuals’ library records.
Fabulous powers to have in a crisis…and dangerous powers in
the wrong hands.” Both the amount and sophistication of the
gadgets and gizmos available to the government is awesome, and
oversight depends upon who is in charge of the government and its
individual parts.


Now, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City attack, a group of
senators and their henchmen propose a new level of snooping that
would make warrants unnecessary and put total control for such
decisions into the hands of one person. Under the guise of catching
terrorists, American law would be changed into a free pass to
suspend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights --- the foundation
that the United States of America rests upon. One of the nefarious
minds behind this idea says, “I still think anyone so opposed
to this badly needed amendment must have a dark secret.” On
the other side, a representative from the FBI contends, “My
main problem with the amendment [is that] it leaves the decision
[of declaring] a national emergency, to someone who might not be
impartial.”


A committee hearing is called and takes place in front of an
audience filled with “mostly senators, staff, friends of
senators, and a few carefully chosen members of the press.”
The first witness is Carl Lehman, the new chief of Homeland
Security. He outlines his past experience in a law and order career
and speaks of his shared pride in the work that he and other law
enforcement colleagues have done. “But it’s no surprise
to anyone that we have constantly been hamstrung by lawyers trying
to get clients off on technicalities. People using the Bill of
Rights as a Get Out of Jail Free card for some of the most vile
criminals… the crime, the people, even the welfare of the
nation, seem not to matter sometimes.”


Lehman raves on, “[I]n time of great need [to be determined
by whom?] we will give the law enforcement community the powers
[unexplained at this point] they need to maintain domestic
tranquility --- just like the Constitution says. In a perfect
world, the…Bill of Rights would be absolute and [we would]
not need this bill --- but we do not live in a perfect
world.” Lehman says that he chooses survival of the nation
above the “abstract ideals” of the Founding Fathers. He
ends his speech with a doomsday remark about not knowing how much
time the United States has to put this amendment into play.


And so Ben Kincaid is swept up in the tide of mania that swells
behind this proposal. He has always been a very cautious man who
thinks through every aspect of a situation. This soul searching
leads to conflict, and asking to help pass this amendment tears him
apart, especially since Mike Morelli is still in a coma. What would
his best friend want him to do? Would Mike expect him to add such a
powerful law to the Constitution while suspending parts of the Bill
of Rights?


William Bernhardt is well known for his high-powered legal
thrillers. In this third novel starring Ben Kincaid as a senator,
he has fashioned another suspenseful plot with just the right pace
and style. As always in Bernhardt’s books, nothing is as
simple as it seems on the surface. He twists elements that at first
may seem random, but they are not. Here he begins with a
disappearance, a murder, a single shot, a person of trust who has
broken protocol, a car bombing and the deaths of innocents. At
first readers may wonder how he can possibly tie these together.
But as the narrative unfolds, the pieces slowly fall into place. As
timely as today’s headlines, especially in this contentious
election year, CAPITOL CONSPIRACY is both a thriller and a
cautionary tale.


   



















Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 26, 2010

Capitol Conspiracy
by William Bernhardt

  • Publication Date: January 15, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345487567
  • ISBN-13: 9780345487568