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The Fifth Assassin: Too many plots spoil the story

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    In his new book, “The Fifth Assassin,” Brad Meltzer’s hero, archivist Beecher White, is preoccupied with past presidential assassinations – for good reason.

    It seems a copy cat killer is loose on the streets of Washington, D.C., and if White’s instincts are correct, all the action is leading up to an attempt on the current president’s life. Video cameras catch the shooter leaving the crime scene wearing Abraham Lincoln’s death mask.
    In a recent post on his website, author Brad Meltzer answered a question about copycat assassins.
    Have there actually been copycat assassination attempts?
    Meltzer: Readers will think I made this plot up. I didn’t. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the FBI building, he was actually wearing a t-shirt that said Sic Semper Tyrannis (the words shouted by John Wilkes Booth during the Lincoln assassination). And back in 1994, a man named Francisco Martin Duran tried to kill President Bill Clinton by firing twenty-nine shots at the White House. But on his drive from Colorado to Washington, did you know he stopped in Dallas, Texas, passing the Book Depository…and that when he got to DC, he even stayed at the Hilton Hotel where John Hinckley shot Reagan? These assassins have never been forgotten.
    This is Meltzer’s second book to feature Beecher White, an employee at the National Archives and a man with his own secrets.
    While the main plot centers on what Beecher believes to be a coordinated plan to kill the president, other stories swirl around, making things murky and more than just a little confusing.
    I’ll try to list them all:
    White belongs to the Culper Ring, a secret spy association created by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
    There’s Marshall Lusk, White’s childhood friend from Sagamore, Wisc., with unsettling childhood secrets and a deadly professional resume.
    There’s Nico, a trained killer gone mad, who may or may not be involved in the current violence.
    There’s Clementine, Nico’s daughter and White’s first love, who may or may not be dying of cancer and whose devotion to her criminally  insane father is unwavering.
    There’s Orson Wallace, former Ohio governor, now President of the United States. Is he aware he has a target on his back – and that this time, it’s personal?
    There’s Stewart Palmiotti, the President’s physician, whose funeral we attend early on, but who turns out to be very much alive. Seems Palmiotti is from White’s hometown and has his own secrets to protect. Were he and his best buddy involved in a murder way back when?
    While Meltzer tries to keep all the plates twirling with short chapters (some no more than two pages), the shift from present to past and from D.C. to Wisconsin and other parts of the country are just too disparate to meld into a cohesive plot.
    By the time everything came to a head, I didn’t really care about anyone other than Clementine, and Meltzer left her story up in the air for a future book, I’m sure.
    Meltzer is known for his meticulous research. Maybe now that he has that down, he can concentrate on learning how to craft tight, cohesive thrillers.

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