There are two major threats to national security revealed in this book. One concerns the legality of the collection of income tax, regarding the way the 16th Amendment was passed, and the other concerns an unpaid debt owed to Haym Solomon, the man who funded the Revolutionary War. This was a debt that George Mason, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, refused to acknowledge, and Andrew Mellon, an American financier, refused to pay. Ultimately, were their actions and the subsequent actions of future government officials justified in order to protect America?
When the book begins, it is New Year’s Eve in 1936. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Andrew Mellon are having a meeting. There was no love lost between FDR and Andrew Mellon. FDR was, of course, the President of the United States, and Andrew Mellon had been, among other things, the Secretary of the Treasury and the man who bequeathed the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC, to America. FDR had brought both criminal and civil charges against Andrew Mellon for tax evasion. Mellon, who was angry and dying, presented a challenge to FDR. He presented him with a dollar bill and pointed out various important images on its newly designed face, among them being a six-sided star and an anagram. He then gave him a piece of paper which would provide the clues to a scenario that he said would bring both FDR and his tyrannical rule to an end. FDR, in defiance, crumbled the paper without reading it and threw it across the room. Mellon had presented the ultimate game of revenge to FDR, as he intended to frighten him into trying to figure out the puzzle. He wanted the last word. This theme of revenge runs throughout the novel.
Now fast forward to the present day and meet the legitimate son of the leader of North Korea. Kim Yong-Jin, who had been disowned years ago for clandestinely attempting to take his children to see Tokyo Disneyland, was in exile in Macao. His half-brother became Dear Leader instead of him, when his father died. He was resentful and had been harboring thoughts and plans for vengeance for years, believing he was the rightful ruler North Korea.
Meanwhile, an American, Anan Wayne Howell, had refused to pay his income taxes, declaring that the collection of the tax was illegal since the 16th Amendment had not been properly ratified. He took flight and was found guilty in absentia. Howell, as a fugitive, had written a book called, “The Patriot Threat”, which contained accusations about the legitimacy of the 16th amendment and the repayment of a loan to Haym Solomon which seem too close to reality. When Paul Larks, a former Treasury official discovers documents which prove that this may be true and also discovers that the debt to Haym Solomon was never paid because the documents had been concealed, he makes arrangements to meet with Howell. Larks wants to pass on the papers he has discovered which back up Howell’s theories and which will prove his innocence.
When Kim Yong-Jin, using a false identity, becomes involved in this plan, he recognizes that, with those documents, he might be able to bring down both the United States and China’s economy, ultimately restoring himself to what he believes is his rightful leadership position in Korea. He enlists Hana, his illegitimate daughter’s help. She had spent the first 14 years of her life in a brutally hard labor camp in North Korea, with her mother, until he rescued her, leaving her mother there to die. If he gets these documents and exposes their existence, America would owe billions to Solomon and would also have to return all illegally paid back income taxes; China would lose its arrangement with Dear Leader concerning the mining of precious metals which would drastically downgrade their economy, as well. Korea, a closed society, and Kim Yong-Jin, would fare far better.
The tension is constant as the scenes change location as they reach a fever pitch, from Cotton Malone’s investigation of the European side of it, to Stephanie Nelle, the head of The Magellan Billet, under the auspices of the Justice Department, and her investigation in Washington DC, to Kim Yong-Jin’s diabolical schemes hatched in Macao, and to Larks and Howell’s effort to reveal the damaging information to the world. China and North Korean agents also get involved in the search for the documents while trying to protect and further their own interests. The Justice Department was after the fugitive, Howell, and the Treasury Department was after the documents they believed would bring down America. Somewhere among the documents there was an original crumbled piece of paper with a code on it, that was left by Andrew Mellon, for FDR to decipher. It was presented by Mellon as a test and veiled threat to FDR and his power. It held the key to the possible downfall of America, China, and ultimately, other world powers.
All of the parties were sometimes at odds with each other creating conflict, violence and danger. The plot was very complicated, and often confusing, with so many themes twisting back and forth throughout the narrative. However, all parties where realistically portrayed with the duplicity of North Korea and the craftiness of the Chinese in evidence, to say nothing of the corruption of our own American government. At the end of the book, the reader may wonder about the ethical behavior and judgment of all the characters.
Scott Brick is one of my favorite narrators. He knows how to hold the listener’s interest using the proper tone and tension in his voice. As a special treat, Steve Berry used an innovative approach in this Writer’s Cut audiobook edition. He interjected throughout, explaining the historic significance and background of events, revealing what was fact and what was fiction, as it took place. It was very helpful and enhanced the understanding of the novel.