“The Puppet Master” by Ronald S. Barak

This is a story about the political situation in Washington, the same old story of politicians with alternate objectives to their positions protecting those positions no matter what. Likewise all the civil servants down the line to the police detective, who is expected to solve a complicated serial murder case, while at the same time dealing with his own private worries. The material is well researched and comes across as legitimate. There are some good plot twists, as people form alliances, break them, and team up with former foes. Politics as usual, in other words.

Unfortunately, the puppet master in this book turns out to be the author. He has so much to tell us about Washington political and legal procedures that he gets rather into the habit. When he tells us what people are thinking right after they say the same thing, he has gone too far. I know the writer is trying to show us the faceless bureaucracy of the government, but the result is that too many of the secondary characters are cardboard cutouts, placed there to fulfill their necessary function in the plot, then tossed to the curb like so much recycling.

I have mentioned in other reviews why scientists have to be careful writing Science Fiction. Likewise lawyers and Courtroom Dramas. They tend to be too close to their subject, and unable to draw the line where “interesting” stops and “lecturing” begins. In this case there is too much procedure, especially the choosing of jurors and all of the judge’s instructions to the jury. If it is the writer’s intent to make readers feel that they are right there in the courtroom, perhaps it is best to remember that the majority of what happens in the courtroom is rather slow. We are guided very carefully through the whole trial, told through the use of several sophisticated writing vehicles exactly what we are supposed to notice, what we are supposed to think, and how each side is doing at any given time. 

And then it all breaks down in the final chapters, when the outside action lifts the pressure in the jury room, but we still have to wade through a ream of arguments about government malfeasance and political corruption. Then the outside action is solved by a coincidental concurrence of the right characters at the right place and time. 

A carefully constructed and too-well-documented courtroom procedure novel. Recommended for those interested in finding out what happens in court without the disadvantage of being hauled there.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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