Brad Meltzer’s new thriller, written with Tod Goldberg, is called The House of Secrets (Grand Central). The title comes from the name of a television program in which the host, Jack Nash, debunks mysteries. (It’s a lot like the author’s own show, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.) Beyond that, “house of secrets” also refers to the life Jack built outside the TV show, one in which his kids learned to deal with a celebrity dad who was known worldwide, and who was (behind the scenes) involved with plots and conspiracies that his show never touched upon.
The novel’s central character, Hazel, is drawn with rich color and detail that makes her someone we like, someone we care about, someone we want to know. While many of Meltzer’s thrillers are about people trying to solve mysteries, The House of Secrets is about Hazel trying to solve the mystery of herself. In the novel’s opening moments, she’s in a terrible accident with her father and brother that leaves her with little memory, many physical scars, and no idea, really, who she is or what she’s about. In short, Hazel has a present but very little past. How important is the past then, in understanding who we are right now? She’s a strong woman, but her myriad questions make her vulnerable—and that’s part of her appeal.
Was Hazel a nice person before? Was she kind? Did she and her dad have a good relationship? Was she a good sister to her brother Skip? What are all those guns doing in her house? And what did her father have to do with two dead men who had copies of a book belonging to Benedict Arnold inserted into their chests? (Yes, you read that right.)
What makes us read is Hazel’s unerring commitment. She believes that if she can uncover the secrets behind those books, she’ll also learn more about her father, and if she can do all that, if she can solve a mystery the way her dad did, she might also discover who and what she is.
Meltzer and Goldberg write with a fast, crisp style. It’s breathless, never letting up on the tension or the compelling reasons to keep reading even late into the night. Some writers take their time describing the mood, the sights and sounds and smells of a scene. They want you there. They paint pictures. Meltzer isn’t that kind of writer. He doesn’t paint; instead, he takes snapshots. He gives us quick, insightful, and incisive sentences that tell us where his characters are, what they’re up to, and what’s going on around them. There’s nothing superfluous in a Brad Meltzer thriller, so pay attention. He knows very well that the power of his books isn’t necessarily in the writing itself, but in the narrative drive of the story, our need to see what happens next.
The House of Secrets is a different kind of thriller because it is Hazel’s need to see what happens next that drives the story forward. On top of that, there’s also the relationship between Jack and his kids, which makes these characters wonderfully human. Jack was always looking for truth in his work, and it took him and his kids on a series of adventures, the adventure of a lifetime. Though her father is dead, he left a rich and meaningful legacy in his television shows. It’s not only about the pleasure of having his image and his voice preserved forever; it’s also about what those images mean to her, the legacy of his work as well as the legacy of fatherhood that Jack left Hazel and Skip—and how that legacy shapes their lives.
As if all of that were not enough, The House of Secrets also explores the relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Our founding father and our most famous traitor. What was their relationship? What happened to it and to them? How are these two men bound up in history—and what is their legacy?
Like Brad Meltzer’s other novels, The House of Secrets springs forth from questions, and then asks many more along the way, finally leaving some tantalizingly unanswered. ◊