Attorney Robert Kass pens his first thriller To Save the Nation based on the international intrigue that touched his life.
Photos courtesy of Robert Kass
Detroit attorney Robert Kass has published his first novel, To Save the Nation (Carob Tree Press), a labor of love that took nearly 20 years from conception to print.
The book’s protagonist, idealistic Detroit attorney David Winkler, is on a Caribbean vacation when he stumbles onto a situation that seems difficult to believe. A young woman who grew up in Uruguay has learned her birth parents were Argentinians who were among the 30,000 leftist dissidents who disappeared during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s.
Her birth father, a wealthy banker, was supposedly killed in a small plane accident, but the charred body that was supposedly his had no head or hands. There was no positive identification and no formal investigation was done. After his reported death, the banker’s financial empire collapsed, and his fortune disappeared. The woman hires Winkler to investigate whether the banker is still alive.
“I didn’t really pick the topic; it picked me,” said Kass of Huntington Woods.
As an international attorney in Belgium in the 1970s, Kass had a client like the banker in the novel; he was killed in a small plane crash, after which his banks collapsed. As in the novel, there were rumors he hadn’t been on the plane at all. Kass also knew the banker’s in-house counsel, who died under torture after the plane crash and financial collapse.
“Over the years there have been so many people in my life who have had something to do with this story that it seemed I couldn’t get away from it,” Kass said.
A client at his Detroit law firm was the banker’s cousin, who had visited him in Argentina. At a graduation party, Kass met someone who had lost a lot of money when the banker’s financial empire collapsed; his mother was best friends with the widow of the banker’s in-house counsel. Kass interviewed the widow during a trip to Argentina in 2010. During the same trip, he also spoke with some of the 500 people taken at birth from their mothers — who were then killed — and raised by parents in the Argentina political power elite. About 100 of them have been reunited with their birth families through DNA testing, he said.
Kass spoke to the other side as well. The Spanish tutor he hired in Michigan before his Argentina trip was from an Argentinian military family, and his stepfather had been a colonel during the “Dirty War.” He was eager to share his side of the story with Kass. During their meeting, he justified the army’s actions, saying the military had done what they’d had to do “to save the nation.” Kass adopted the phrase as his book title.
Kass admits he was nervous about the interview. “That morning, I woke up very early, in a sweat, asking myself why I was risking my own safety and that of my wife, who accompanied me, to interview someone involved in the murder of thousands of people.”
After nearly two decades of research, mostly during vacations, Kass decided to write it as a novel when he couldn’t get enough information about how the actual story ended.
Kass describes the book as “a legal thriller with a human rights message” that’s still relevant today. Political dissidents and journalists have disappeared in 108 countries around the world, with 45,000 cases in 92 nations pending before the United Nations, he said. An epilogue to the novel provides resources for further study on “enforced disappearances.”
Be wary of the slippery slope, said Kass; when a country feels threatened, it’s easy to abandon civil and human rights.
Kass has also written three nonfiction books about estate planning and administration.
To Save the Nation is available from Amazon as a paperback and soon as an e-book, and in audio format from Audible.