Beecher White returns as hero in Meltzer’s (The Inner Circle, 2011, etc.) second installment of his conspiracy thriller surrounding the Culper Ring and a corrupt president.
Beecher is an archivist at the National Archives. He’s also the newest member of that obscure brotherhood, the Culper Ring. It’s linked through history to George Washington—“the [Secret] Service’s mission is to protect the President. In the Culper Ring, we protect the Presidency.” One secret endangering the current presidency, which Beecher and the Ring uncovered, is that the man holding the highest office, Orson Wallace, once took part in a brutal murder. Readers meet characters old and new, including Beecher’s fellow archivist Aristotle “Tot” Westman and an undercover computer nerd nicknamed Mac. Then there’s Clementine, Beecher’s childhood acquaintance and daughter of Nico Hadrian, institutionalized, unsuccessful presidential assassin. Through a military human-guinea-pig experiment, Nico is linked to Beecher and to one of Beecher’s childhood friends, Marshall Lusk, a boy with a troubled background. Lusk now works with a secret Government Accountability Office group using stealth tactics to uncover possible security breaches. As the story begins, Lusk is appearing too often at the wrong place at the right time. This includes the site where a murderer replicates the techniques and circumstances of the assassination of Lincoln. The killer’s script next shifts to the murders of Garfield, then McKinley, with each assassination targeting a pastor instead of the president. Decoding the mystery through symbols on playing cards, Beecher and Tot confront another clandestine group, The Knights of the Golden Circle, linked to Etienne de Vignoles, a 14th-century knight charged with protecting the Name of God by killing kings—presidents?—who stand in the way. Adding the mysterious and troubled Lusk to the cast ratchets up the drama and human interest, and Meltzer’s fans will enjoy the usual sprinkling of history factoids, fast-paced writing and the double-whiplash bombshell conclusion.
Although equipped with adequate back story to allow The Fifth Assassin to be enjoyed alone, smart readers will first dip into the series opener, The Inner Circle.