The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.
Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt is part mystery and part historical fiction. Best-selling author Jeffery Deaver once said, “A thriller asks what is going to happen and a mystery asks what happened.”
The plot begins with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Caswell “Cash” Harrison was all set to drop out of law school and join the army until he flunked the physical. Instead, he’s given the opportunity to serve as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. He and another clerk stumble onto a potentially huge conspiracy aimed at guiding the court’s interests. Then Cash’s colleague dies under mysterious circumstances, and the young, idealistic lawyer is determined to get at the truth.
Although the front cover displays pictures of Japanese American interned during WWII that places a very secondary role to the murder mystery. Anyone picking up this book to learn more details about the shameful period in American history might be a bit disappointed.
What Roosevelt (Teddy’s great-great-grandson) does brilliantly is to allow the reader to understand what are the duties, attributions, and tribulations of a Supreme Court Justice. Being a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and having clerked for DC Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams and Supreme Court Justice David Souter he allows these experiences to contribute to the storyline. The gathering of facts, writing of briefs and oral arguments before the court are described in meticulous detail. The author has included an extensive note at the end of the book pointing out where fact ends and fiction begins for each of the supporting characters mentioned in the story. This coupled with his use of actual transcripts, makes for informative reading.
There are appearances by many historical characters including J. Edgar Hoover and his number two man, Clyde Tolson, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court, Attorney General Biddle, and various members of the Department of Justice and Department of War. Readers will feel as the story progresses that they can get a glimpse into the world of Supreme Court Justices, specifically those mentioned above. Roosevelt commented to blackfive.net, “I learned as much as I could about Justice Black. After doing the research I came to admire these men, but realized they also had flaws. For example, Black did have clerks over to his house, cooked dinner for them, and played tennis with them. In fact, the tennis scene in the book is based on the time I played tennis with Justice Scalia.”
Allegiance is a good read for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between a Supreme Court Justice and his clerk. Within that there is a mystery and resolution.