While the title “King of All Media” has been claimed by another personality, I cannot think of anyone who has a greater claim to the throne than Brad Meltzer. Television? Meltzer created and scripted the critically acclaimed coming-of-age series “Jack and Bobby” and hosts a program for The History Channel called “Brad Meltzer Decoded.” Books? He won an award for his Justice League of America graphic novel from a few years back, and his nonfiction works HEROES FOR MY SON and HEROES FOR MY DAUGHTER have honored places on many bookshelves.
However, it is Meltzer’s thriller novels that really shine --- THE MILLIONAIRES and THE ZERO GAME remain favorites in this house --- so it is a pleasure to see the newly published work THE FIFTH ASSASSIN grace our presence. Full of surprises, action, twists and turns, it is a wild and entertaining (and yes, educational) romp, wonderful in every way.
"There is much to love here, from the historical trivia that Meltzer mined over the course of four years of painstaking, labor-of-love research to his trademark page-turning narrative. What is particularly impressive is the manner in which Meltzer incorporates the factoids that he has unearthed into the ticking-clock plot."
This latest novel heralds the return of Beecher White, last seen in Meltzer’s THE INNER CIRCLE. Beecher is a unique protagonist, an archivist with the National Archives who became a member of The Culper Ring, a close-knit and secretive group founded by George Washington that is tasked with the preservation of the Republic. The book’s premise is that the four successful presidential assassins --- John Wilkes Booth, Charles Julius Guiteau, Leon Frank Czolgosz, and Lee Harvey Oswald --- were all part of a group known as The Knights of the Golden Circle and, over the course of 100 years, acted in concert with each other.
In THE FIFTH ASSASSIN, a number of religious leaders in Washington, D.C. are grotesquely murdered one by one, each in fashion reminiscent of one of the presidential assassinations. The attacks, each of which is carried out by a Knight, are leading up to the assassination of Orson Wallace, the current U.S. President. It is Beecher who uncovers the historical connection of the four prior assassinations and who comes to realize that there is about to be an attack carried out by the fifth assassin --- and that he is the only one who can possibly prevent it.
Trust me: that summary hardly does this book justice. There is much to love here, from the historical trivia that Meltzer mined over the course of four years of painstaking, labor-of-love research to his trademark page-turning narrative. What is particularly impressive is the manner in which Meltzer incorporates the factoids that he has unearthed into the ticking-clock plot. These items would be fascinating if he had merely dropped them, a paragraph at a time, into the story; readers would be stopping to underline every few minutes.
Even those items concerning subjects one might otherwise not be interested in are…well, interesting. Here is one example for you: I have never been particularly interested in card games. A bit over halfway through the book, Meltzer discusses a playing card that everyone has seen any number of times, and points out an overlooked element on the card that will compel you to stop your reading just to check out the card. Somehow, Meltzer drops these hand grenades into the narrative without ever losing track of his story, an achievement in itself.
Read THE FIFTH ASSASSIN and prepare to be entranced and enthralled.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 18, 2013