Brad Meltzer is a genius in every sense of the word. He is, from all accounts, modest enough that if he happens to read these words he'll probably blush. While I don't wish to cause him embarrassment or discomfort, what I say is true. The evidence? Meltzer was a speechwriter for Americacorps, former President Bill Clinton's national service program; he co-created a brilliant, critically acclaimed, criminally under-appreciated television series called "Jack & Bobby"; he has written six novels, each a wonder in its own right for entirely different reasons; and he also wrote a seven-part graphic novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, that still has the comic fanboys talking.
The common threads through all of these works are Meltzer's encyclopedic knowledge and dogged research; what he doesn't know, he looks up. But what's cool (there's no other word for it) is the way that he incorporates a bunch of seemingly unrelated factoids and careful, painstaking research into a meticulously plotted story, peopled by characters whom one can actually care about long after the work --- be it a novel, screenplay or comic book --- has ended.
THE BOOK OF FATE, while possessing all of the traits noted above, is also (in some ways) a love letter to the institution of the White House, whose occupant Meltzer served quite skillfully during his tenure there. Meltzer gives his readers much more than a thriller with the White House as a backdrop; he presents us with what appears to be an over-the-shoulder insider's view.
The majority of the novel is seen through the eyes of Wes Holloway, a once up-and-coming aide to President Leland Manning. An assassination attempt permanently scarred Holloway, effectively ended Manning's presidency and killed Ron Boyle, Manning's closest advisor and best friend. Some eight years later, Holloway is still an aide to the now-former president, not slipping back but never looking forward either. Holloway's ennui is suddenly disturbed when two things happen: the deranged assassin who so dramatically changed Holloway's life escapes, and Holloway, against all odds, discovers that Boyle is alive. Both events are related --- directly and indirectly --- to the machinations of The Three, a shadowy group whose subtle attempts to manipulate events for their own gain resulted in the terrible day that so long ago altered Holloway's life and the course of the nation.
Holloway is determined to come to grips with the guilt he feels over Boyle's apparent death. To do this, he will have to uncover the identity of The Three, a task that involves breaking the code of a recent and far-removed President, and pursuing a trail that leads surprisingly right back to the man who has had his trust, loyalty and respect for over a decade --- even as he places his own life in danger.
All of this would be great fun on its own. But what distinguishes THE BOOK OF FATE from novels of its stripe is Meltzer's ability to draw a myriad of intriguing facts from multiple disciplines into the narrative without straining the borders of his story. He's like the college professor --- there are at least one or two on every campus --- whose class is so interesting that everyone wants to take it, whether or not it is within the sphere of their academic discipline.
Another element of the book that left me, frankly, with mouth agape in admiration was Meltzer's plotline. He leaves the "who" and "why" of the machinations that propel THE BOOK OF FATE until the end of the work, as one would expect; what is impressive is the seamlessness of the logic behind it all. Occasionally a suspension of disbelief is required --- and, in most cases, earned --- by a narrative that perhaps exceeds the believable motivations of the characters. Not so in this novel, wherein disbelief need never even show its face. One can draw a line from the beginning to the end and never deviate from the plausibility of this masterful work.
From its subtle nod to the legendary multitasking of Meltzer's former boss, to the brief but hilarious name check that every comic fanboy will appreciate, THE BOOK OF FATE is worth the sleepless night or two it will take to read it. It gets no better than this.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 11, 2011