Review and Interview Thursday: The Fifth Letter by Vivian Carpenter


Goodreads Blurb:
Sometimes you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Such is the position in which U.S. Justice Katherine Ross, the first black female on the U.S. Supreme Court, finds herself in “The Fifth Letter,” the new legal thriller by author Vivian Carpenter. 

Rooted in the historical treatment of Blacks in the United States, Justice Katherine Ross, the first Black female on the U.S. Supreme Court, struggles to do what is right as her mother’s 1940s memoir influences her actions and emotions. 

Once on the Court, Katherine gains the power to ignite an involuntary retirement process to remove conservative Justice John Galt from the bench after the U.S. Constitution is amended to create an involuntary retirement process of incapacitated justices. 

John Galt, an outspoken egoist, survives an assassination attempt but is severely injured. He appears incapacitated. Pressures for Galt’s removal from the bench mount with his prolonged absence from the Court. However, John Galt will not resign is seat. Katherine must decide whether or not to issue the fifth letter for Galt’s retirement. 

While weaving through Katherine’s personal challenges, “The Fifth Letter” turns a spotlight on the most important issue currently facing the Court today: who is a person with inalienable legal rights in America? And it asks this question of its main character: What happens when a liberal Black female justice of the Supreme Court is caught between her conscience and the call of political expedience?”

Thank you to the author, Vivian Carpenter, and publicist Sarah Gilbert for gifting me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I can honestly say I’ve never read a book quite like this one.  It’s all about the inner workings of the judicial branch of government in the United States and one woman’s journey through finding her heritage and what is right for the country.  You definitely need to have a little background knowledge on what the Supreme Court is and does and how it all works.  Since I live in the US, I’ve studied the Supreme Court in my Social Studies classes so I understood everything but if you’re from another country with a limited knowledge of our justice system, then I’d suggest a little background research.

I’ll try as much as possible in this review to not reveal too much so at times I might be a little vague.  With that in mind, I really liked reading Hattie’s story although I do think that the flow from ‘present day’ to the flashbacks and the story could have been made a bit smoother.  There were times where I was a bit confused as to what was taking place when.

I really liked the issues addressed in this book and the moral dilemma’s that the justices faced.  I think the average person (including me!) has an interpretation of the law that’s very black and white when in fact it isn’t at all.  There’s so much in the wording and interpretation that we don’t really think about you know?

There is one big thing that I wanted to talk about and that’s the two conflicting but interwoven plot lines in this book.  When you begin the book, it’s all about Katharine finding her heritage and who she is as a Supreme Court justice.  However, a little later in the book, the main plot line is introduced (the one in the blurb about John Galt).  I really enjoyed reading about the two plot lines and how they wormed their way through Katharine’s life.  Once I got to the end though, the big discovery about her father is never truly addressed (and the the issue of Katharine’s mother isn’t either entirely) and that plot line just sort of fizzled out.  I’m a resolution sort of girl so that bothered me a little.  As for Katharine’s mother, I actually really like what the author did… read it and you’ll get it trust me!

All in all though, I really liked reading this sort of book and it was very, VERY well researched with accurate… well everything.  I could really see the work that went into making this novel and it was so worth the read!

The Final Verdict:
A very well researched and well written book revolving around the effects of morality and humanity upon the law and it’s shades of gray.  I loved reading about Katharine’s past and her present.  However, I was a little sad when the plot line about her father fizzled out at the end.
4 stars

“‘So I want to do this for us – Dad, me and We the People – I want to be a great Supreme Court justice.'”

“How did one answer the question: ‘Who are you?’  It was the kind of question that had kept her awake at night ever since the nomination.”

“Out of many, one.”

Meet the Author

Vivian L. Carpenter is a writer, motivational speaker, and teacher. She holds three degrees from the University of Michigan: a BSE in industrial engineering and operations research, an MBA, and a Ph.D. in business administration. As an academic, she has won several awards and grants for her scholarly work in institutional theory from the National Science Foundation, Governmental Accounting Standards Board, Kellogg Foundation, and Ford Foundation. As a business professional, she was director of academic programs at FAMU’s School of Business and Industry (SBI) and served as chairperson of the board of MotorCity Casino in Detroit, Michigan. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and Birmingham, Michigan.



1. What motivated you to write The Fifth Letter?  Any inspirations?
When I started writing The Fifth Letter, I simply wanted to explore the roots of my family history and complete a mission that my late uncle, Charles Lincoln Thomas had begun.  I started with a one-page summary of a pivotal event in the Thomas family history that I did not believe could be proven today.  So I decided to write a fictional story with that one-page of explosive family history as the inspiration for my initial research.  

2. Do you prefer handwriting or typing?
I prefer writing on my laptop.  I have a MacAir.  I keep a notepad and pen on my nightstand to record whatever dreams or thoughts I have when I first wake up, if they’re related to my current writing.

3. What impact did the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand have on you and ultimately, The Fifth Letter?
I read Atlas Shrugged three times to make sure I really understood her character John Galt.  But my John Galt character pulls energy from the famous Scottish author John Galt who wrote in the early 1800s.  I think reading Atlas Shrugged three times helped make me a stronger writer.   I can see how Atlas Shrugged has impacted our society.  It is beautifully written.

4. What is your favorite part of writing?
Researching.  I am a researcher and I built The Fifth Letter on a solid platform of research.  When I wrote the McPherson Square scene near the end of The Fifth Letter, I was shocked to learn that an Occupy Wall Street type protest was in progress.  I was searching for the best place in Washington to have a protest.   I found a protest in progress to bring The Fifth Letter to life.

5. What is your least favorite part of writing?
Cutting chapters that I love and spent weeks of my life creating.  The Fifth Letter was 758 pages when I finished the first draft.  My historical fiction chapters in 1776 and 1787 didn’t make it.  My favorite chapter didn’t make it.

6. Describe The Fifth Letter in five words or less.
A motivational vehicle for change.

7. Do you think you’ll write another book?
Yes.  I’ve already started the research and writing.  Some of the 1776 and 1787 chapters that were cut from The Fifth Letter will find a home in my next novel.  I think some of my best writing is in deleted chapters from The Fifth Letter.  

8. How long did it take to write The Fifth Letter?
It took me seven years to write The Fifth Letter.  During my writer’s journey to create The Fifth Letter, I discovered personal transformation is the only way to create change in our society.

9. Any favorite hobbies?
I like reading and I am a golfer.  I love travel.  I just completed a 108-day world cruise.  I polished The Fifth Letter and golfed while I cruised this winter.  Now I’m reading a lot again.

10. Any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes.  Attend writing conferences to learn the craft of writing, develop a small network of friends who are writers who can grow with you, read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and then write what you know from your life experience and heart.  Then rewrite it again and again, until you can’t find one word that needs to be changed—all things considered.

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