By Brad Meltzer
Grand Central Publishing
Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated while in office – Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. What if the four assassins were all linked and working for the same cause?
This is the question Brad Meltzer tackles in The Fifth Assassin, the second book in “The Culper Ring” series. The protagonist of The Fifth Assassin, National archivist Beecher White was introduced in the first book of the series, 2011’s The Inner Circle. The Fifth Assassin picks up right where that book left off, with Beecher on the bad side of the current President of the United States. Beecher knows the president’s deep dark secrets and the POTUS is none too happy about that.
In The Inner Circle, Beecher discovered the existence of and become a member of the fabled Culper Ring — a secret group created by George Washington and charged with protecting the presidency rather than the president. This time, with the help of his fellow Ring members, Beecher is on the trail of a killer known as The Knight who appears to be re-enacting the four presidential assassinations with religious figures as the victims. But is The Knight’s final victim going to be the President?
As Beecher and his Culper Ring allies investigate the murders, Beecher, and the reader, are left wondering who to trust and questioning what really is the truth. Several figures from Beecher’s past may be tied into the murders, including Clementine Hadrian from The Inner Circle and her father, Nico, who had tried to assassinate President Wallace in The Book of Fate.
The interspersed flashbacks help build the mystery of who The Knight may be while helping us understand Beecher and his relationship with another figure from his past, Marshall Lusk, who may or may not be the killer.
I continue to love Meltzer’s use of an archivist as his hero. So many similar stories rely on a military hero of some kind accompanied by a beautiful female who is a scientist or scholar of some sort. It’s nice to see a story break away from those conventions.
Meltzer skillfully makes new readers feel right at home with this cast of characters while not alienating fans of The Inner Circle. However, I do think reading The Inner Circle first would help make a new reader even more comfortable with the many mysteries and intertwined relationships that are central to the story.
As always, Meltzer’s thorough research and knowledge of U.S. history shines through and helps guide this book through its many twists and turns. I flew through this book much faster than normal for two reasons:
1) Meltzer writes in a very readable style.
2) I had to see how the story resolved itself.
There were a few points in the story where the twists and revelations seemed like a little much, including the revelation of the killer’s identity. But those flaws didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story or leave me feeling cheated at the end. By the way, the end definitely points to a sequel, which I can’t wait to read.
If you love Meltzer’s “Decoded” TV show or are a fan of historical mysteries, first read The Inner Circle if you haven’t, then pick up The Fifth Assassin. You won’t be able to put it down.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Fifth Assassin a 4.
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