The Book of Fate
by Brad Meltzer
Published by Warner
528 pages, 2006
The Exterior, the Interior and the Ulterior
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
Brad Meltzer's The Book of Fate is one terrific rollercoaster ride of a novel. Though it's billed as a political thriller, I think it's more of a study of some seriously screwed-up characters -- and that's a good thing. From the assassination attempt in the opening pages, through to the book's exciting conclusion, the The Book of Fate rockets along like few can or do.
Right off the bat, I want to caution you against the marketing of this book: In a somewhat feeble attempt to DaVinci Code it, much is made of hidden Jeffersonian codes and the like -- but so little of this adventure has anything to do with that. Reading it, I kept wondering when the juicy code stuff would surface, when it might turn the plot, and it just didn't. So if you can ignore all that jumbo-mumbo and just let the book be the book, you'll have a much better time.
Set in the area around Washington, DC, the plot centers on Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide who was caught in the madness of the shooting. More than just an unfortunate observer, he was a participant: A stray bullet grazed him, leaving his face a physical mess. Eight years on, the sounds and fury of that day still echo in his memory. For the most part Wes is OK; he's still working for the President and First Lady, by now a part of their extended family. But just when Wes allows himself to be almost complacent about the past and its place in his future, he thinks he sees the man who was killed that day.
Now, this isn't just any victim. This is a man whose death Wes feels responsible for -- so he can't turn away. Now, suddenly, he's got to ask questions he never wanted to ask, and -- of course -- put everything at risk.
The Book of Fate is fascinating because its characters are so interesting: Wes, the first family, the various agents and government hangers-on, the go-get-'em gossip columnist. Everyone has exterior lives, interior secrets, and ulterior motives -- and watching them strike like pool balls is what's so much fun to read.
Meltzer, whose writing style is fast and frill-free, is the author of several bestsellers and the creator the TV show Jack & Bobby, which ran for one season before it was canceled out from under those of us who loved it. He creates complex characters so ambiguous that the good guys not only might be bad, but even worse than the bad guys. In short, everyone's a potential villain.
That's what I found so absorbing about The Book of Fate. In most thrillers, it's pretty clear who's who. Here, with so much at stake and with so many secrets, it could be just about anyone. And at my house, that's what kept the pages turning long into the night. | September 2006
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse and a contributing editor to January Magazine and Blue Coupe. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he is hard at work on an exciting new chapter in his life.