Brad Meltzer's new thriller is fast-paced, exciting -- and a bit misleading at the end.
Tue, Sep. 12, 2006
BY SAM HARRISON
Brad Meltzer. Warner. 528 pages. $25.99.
From the first sentence, Brad Meltzer's new thriller grabs hold and doesn't let go. It's a fast, exciting ride, but when it's done, there's a feeling Meltzer didn't go quite as far as he promised.
A young presidential aide, Wes Holloway, is wounded in an assassination attempt at the Daytona International Speedway, an attack that spares the president but kills his oldest friend. Wes takes a ricochet in the face, leaving him terribly scarred, but that's nothing compared to his internal wounds. Because of Wes' scheduling error, the man killed was riding in the presidential limo for some hurried time with the boss and stepped into the line of fire. Even eight years later, still loyal and working for the former president in Palm Beach, Wes can't escape his guilt.
So it is more than a little disconcerting when, backstage at a speech in Malaysia, Wes literally bumps into Ron Boyle, the man who was killed at the speedway. The encounter is brief and chaotic. Boyle is different, apparently the recipient of plastic surgery, but his eyes give him away.
Back in Palm Beach, his world turned suddenly upside down, Wes tells no one he has seen Boyle but his roommate Rogo, and another former aide, Gavin Dreidel, in town for a fundraiser for his own state senate race. These three, and eventually society gossip columnist Lisbeth, set about unraveling the mystery. Is Boyle really alive? If so, why did he fake his own death, leaving behind a wife and daughter? Was he coming after the former president, or does he want to be found?
Unbeknownst to Wes, all his conversations on the matter are being heard thanks to a bug strategically placed by someone in the former president's Palm Beach office. Two FBI agents show up and start nosing around, in effect telling Wes to butt out. In a sometimes irritating series of switches from one voice to another -- Wes' observations are told in first person; a half-dozen others in third person -- that includes an assassin incarcerated in a mental lock-up, a mysterious clandestine agent known as The Roman, the FBI guys and a few others, a plot of intriguing promise emerges.
The Book of Fate does not provide relaxed reading. The plot behind the plot of Boyle's fake death is exceedingly complex, and its unraveling somewhat tedious at times, particularly with all the changes in point of view and voice. But if you stay with Meltzer, the story ultimately makes sense. A code involving a crossword puzzle, the key to the mystery, is eventually traced back to Thomas Jefferson, and again Meltzer dangles the tantalizing promise of a centuries-old plot by the Freemasons. It's something of a disappointment when that story never materializes and the real motivation for the crime is just another of the mundane vices.
Double-crosses, mayhem, a thrillingly tense stand-off and a cunning twist only a few will see coming pack the last frenetic chapters. Well researched, fast-paced and highly inventive, The Book of Fate is a good thriller, but by hinting that codes and secret societies have shaped and continue to shape history and then not delivering on that premise, it isn't more.
Sam Harrison is a writer in Ormond Beach.