The Anti-Semite Next Door, a Timely Legal Thriller by Mark M. Bello

The Bottom Line: A timely, gut-punch of a legal thriller that taps into an imperative global conversation about extremism and hate-fueled violence. Highly recommended. 

The ninth book in Mark M. Bello’s Zachary Blake series opens in the Detroit suburbs, as the King of Justice attends the bar-mitzvah of his college friend’s son, Josh. Through spicy pre-ceremony banter, we learn that for Zack, bar-mitzvahs are far more than a rite of passage. He considers them an act of defiance in light of historical efforts to marginalize and exterminate Jews. 

Just after the post-service speech, an explosion rips through the temple. Several guests are seriously injured. Josh and his neighbor, Chip Ellis, are nowhere to be found.

We soon learn that the missing pair are being held by The Patriotic Storm Troopers, an alt-right hate group led by a propagandist who goes by the name Winger Wright. Until the bombing, the results of Wright’s “Master Race Master Plan” have wrought fear, but not much more. His announced plan to march on Synagogues led to a united front led by the government, the major and religious leaders from all denominations – as well as a costly police presence. In the end, not a single marcher showed up, and it was declared “a sick hoax.” 

When it comes to Josh and Chip, Wright briefly considers killing them before deciding to demand ransom – as well as the release of yet-to-be-named prisoners. 

What is Winger Wright’s real identity? Is the terrorist group merely a few disgruntled extremists, or do they have additional support in mainstream society? Did they act alone? Is more violence coming? 

Bello, author of the excellent Betrayal at the Border, blends fact and fiction. References to real events, such as the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, or Henry Ford’s anti-semitic conspiracy theories, add heft to the story (ironically, the bombing victims are taken to Henry Ford Hospital).

It takes time before Zack’s exemplary legal skills become the book’s driving force, but his humanity and political leanings are front-and-center from the get-go. Zack knows exactly what he stands for, and watching him evangelize and act without fear is enthralling. Things get interesting in the book’s midpoint, however, when he must reconcile his personal beliefs with his belief in the justice system (“Why did I agree to represent this guy?”). 

Elsewhere, Bello fills the book with a large and intriguing cast of characters. Workaholic FBI agent Clare Gibson devotes a third of her life to the job – even when she’s not getting paid. Local private investigator Micah Love struggles with a voracious porn habit. On that note, while the book’s core subject matter couldn’t be more serious, Bello lands plenty of well-timed jokes throughout, achieving a great overall balance. 

Highly recommended for legal thriller fans.

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