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The President's Shadow (The Culper Ring Series) Hardcover – June 16, 2015
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"The twists and turns...will keep even the most jaded reader up all night...Meltzer blends history into the story line, and a good portion of it is insider knowledge, giving authenticity to the conspiracy that is slowly unveiled. This is the third thriller to feature White, and it's a perfect cap to an amazing trilogy."―Associated Press
"Numerous plot strands, multiple narrative perspectives, divided loyalties, a Devil's Island labor-camp nightmare from the past, and a psychotic killer add up to another chilling adventure from plotmaster Meltzer. A strong addition to the genre and a sure bet for the David Baldacci and James Grippando set, this is a high-energy page-turner, full of shocking violence and unrelenting peril: a stay-up-all-night nail-biter."―Booklist
"Meltzer's masterful storytelling skills...keep his readers wondering until the last word."―Fort Worth Star Telegram (4 stars)
"His energetic storytelling...always keeps readers engaged."―Detroit Free Press
"Electrifying...Meltzer's character development is particularly superb in this book."―The Dallas News
"A taut political conspiracy thriller... Readers will find it difficult to put this quick-paced page-turner down as they get pulled into the maze of deceit, intrigue, and conspiracy."―Library Journal
"The author of DC's best thrillers."―Washingtonian
"Energetic storytelling...keeps the reader's interest. Meltzer sprinkles little-known tidbits about U.S. and presidential history throughout. Nothing seems too farfetched...because even the most outlandish detail is based on fact....THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW is a welcome return to Meltzer's thriller roots."―Sun-Sentinel (FL)
"Fans of historical conspiracy fiction will find a lot to like."―Publishers Weekly
"All of Brad's books are a fascinating read. He is a great storyteller who keeps all of us on the edge of our seats."―President George H.W. Bush
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This staple plot completely sums up The President's Shadow, as indeed it does all the books of the Culper Ring series; and if that is all the books had to offer, they would still be pretty good books. Four stars, I'd say.
But Brad Meltzer adds another layer to the mix here: history. No, not the history of presidents and espionage and secret organizations, although these are also to be found in the Culper Ring books in great abundance. I'm referring to personal history. As protagonist Beecher White says, when you're looking for your family, what you're really searching for is yourself.
After all, let's suppose that you or I stumbled across some kind of evidence of an incredible plot by or against the government. What would you do? Most of us, I'm sure, would be happy to turn the evidence over to the police or FBI and wash our hands of the whole thing. Hardly any of us would decide to quit our jobs, fly around the country chasing clues, and endure being shot at by Secret Service agents gone rogue -- yet this is what most thrillers on the market would have us believe.
On the other hand, we might do a lot, if it meant learning more about the father who died when we were 4, or if the girl who gave us our first kiss in 8th grade suddenly reappears, asking us for a favor. Brad Meltzer knows this. It seems that every one of his characters has some kind of motivation like that, and it turns a genre thriller into something more emotionally complex. It also blurs the lines of good and bad: as one of the characters in the book, one of the "bad guys" says, we are all many people inhabiting a single body. Or as another one says, near the end, we are not who we are on our worst days.
The book is fast-pace and very readable; in fact for the first time in I-don't-remember-when I read the whole book in a single day.
Finally, I have to share this experience: when I received the book in the mail and opened the package eagerly, and, seeing Meltzer's portrait on the back, fondly recalled the occasion when I met Brad Meltzer personally . . . only to remember that, actually, I've never met him. We've never even exchanged emails. So why did I, for a brief moment, think that Meltzer was an old acquaintance of mine? It's not like it happens to me all the time.
The only thing that I can think of was that I had read an essay that Meltzer wrote once on some blog, talking about his days reading The New Teen Titans comic back in the early 1980s. It was a good comic, one of the best ever, and a year or so into its run the introduced a mysterious character named Terra -- streetwise, young, yet vulnerable. She was accepted as a member of the Titans, then it was revealed that she was actually working as a spy for the Titans' worst enemy, Deathstroke. For more than a year you could see the confrontation coming, according to all the accepted staple plots of the comics genre: the Titans and Deathstroke would battle, and the Titans would be losing until Terra shows her inherent goodness and rescues the Titans.
Except it didn't happen that way. Terra betrayed the Titans, and died in the attempt. I was devastated. I didn't read comics again for 20 years, until Brad Meltzer started writing them. And I read in this essay of his, that Terra's betrayal hit him every bit as hard as it hit me. He merely put in words all the emotions I had been feeling 20 years earlier. And in that moment, Brad Meltzer became the childhood friend I never knew.
So that is the Culper Ring series. Thrillers, set in history: America's history. And the childhood traumas that none of us ever completely gets over.
All in all, once you disconnect from reality and plausibility, it's quite an entertaining series.
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