America is facing a constitutional crisis. Following the convening of a sizeable public committee aiming to curtail the personal perks of congress, which is broadly seen as unduly money-chasing and so undemocratic, ‘Amendment 28’ has been introduced. The addition to the constitution curtails personal perks without congressional consultation. Congress deem that illegal.
In a landmark legal case invoking concepts centuries old, it’s the job of the supreme court to make a landmark decision, and in doing so decide if the new amendment should stand or fall. We join the battle from a number of perspectives. That of the lawyers. That of a supreme court judge. That of a kidnapper, and that of the grandchild of the supreme court judge, the kidnapping victim.
This is a clever construction. Barak weaves a complex narrative, part crime story, part convoluted legal drama filled with technical and educated-feeling courtroom narrative. It uses some clever parallels, such as in the TV coverage explaining the ongoing drama to the ‘general public’ (and thus the reader). There are lots of added strands of drama, like the insulin shortage that threatens to prematurely kill kidnap victim Cassie, or the strange but believable connections that tie together the various strands of the story.
Can a typically liberal-leaning judge be ‘persuaded’ to go over to the dark side, rule the amendment illegal, and thus save the various ‘benefits’ that the amendment looks to cut off? Will he put his family ahead of the good of the nation, and solidify the power of a congress seemingly intent on abusing it?
If there’s a weakness here, it’s that sheer length of a drama that builds in intensity, but seems to run at a full on, level 8-10 of drama throughout hundreds of pages, something that can seem like a bit of an overload of intensity at times. Equally, some of the broader concepts are not exactly teeming with originality. In fairness to Barak, though, he has gone deeply into the technicality to add ‘real life’ logic to his story. As a European with an (at best) modest understanding of American constitutional law, I was able to follow the ideas, structures and arguments, without feeling like I was over cluttered with unnecessary detail. The strengths and weaknesses of the lawyers cases were expansive, and clearly extremely carefully thought out.
The multiple perspectives work well, too: as a reader we have just enough to understand the differing angles of each person involved, and while it can somewhat telegraph what’s coming next at times, there are some gorgeous twists and turns in other corners that keep you charging on. At hundreds of short chapters, THE AMENDMENT KILLER is a book with heft that feels like it’s flying by, written by someone who appears to know his subject in detail, and use that knowledge to weave a fantastic tale. It’s full on, fluid, and memorable.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader