'The President's Shadow'

Best-selling author's novel is the last in a trilogy

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

New York Times best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer can pinpoint the exact moment he conceived the plots of his novels.

His latest, “The President’s Shadow” began with a single image in his mind: One morning at the White House, while gardening, the First Lady uncovers a severed arm buried in the Rose Garden. How did the hand get there? Whose hand is it? How’d they get past security? And most important, what’s the secret puzzle that’s hidden in the hand?

“From there, I give the plot to experts in the Secret Service and other places, and I ask them: ‘What would you do first?’ The answers will surprise you,” said Meltzer, 45, an alumnus of the University of Michigan and Columbia University Law School. “When the Secret Service wants to do a private investigation at the White House, they'll sometimes announce a ‘renovation’ of an old room. That way, they can get the First Family out of the house, and no one’s the wiser.

“You’ll note that nearly every president to have passed through the White House has renovated a room,” he said. “President (Barack) Obama renovated the Treaty Room; Bush renovated the Briefing Room; Bill Clinton gave us a new Music Room. As an agent told me: ‘You won’t believe what’s been done under the guise of ‘home improvements.’”

This novel is the last in the trilogy featuring archivist Beecher White and the Culper Ring, a clandestine group of spies founded by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In “Shadow,” Beecher is now the de facto leader of the Culper Ring, whose mission today is to protect the Presidency.

President Orson Wallace needs the Culper Ring’s help in discovering who was buried in the Rose Garden because he fears there might be a mole inside the Secret Service.

Beecher’s investigation unveils secrets about his father Alby and Nico Hadrian, a psychopath who failed to kill the President, both of whom were part of a covert military experiment called the Plankholders.

“I found out where the government secretly imprisoned the killers of Abraham Lincoln. Beyond John Wilkes Booth, there were eight other co-conspirators who plotted to kill Lincoln. Four were hung. Four others, including Dr. Samuel Mudd, were secretly shipped via boat to Devil’s Island a.k.a. Fort Jefferson a.k.a. the Dry Tortugas (located south of the Florida Keys),” explained Meltzer. “I live in Miami and had no idea this island even existed. So I did what any other history nerd would do: I went to visit. In the book, you’ll see what’s there (and how it ties into the Plankholders).”

Meltzer is known for meticulously researching his novels, and “Shadow” is no exception.

For this one, he talked to members of the Secret Service, went to Secret Service Headquarters on H Street in Washington, D.C., and spoke extensively with former President George H.W. Bush.

“I was on a tour of Secret Service headquarters… At the tan-brick, nine-story building, there are no food trucks allowed. No trash cans either, so nobody can leave a bomb. Plus, they don’t keep a sign out front. They don’t want anyone knowing what’s in there. On 9/11, it’s where they hid the First Lady (Laura Bush). It has multiple armories, a joint operations center, and thousands of agents who aren’t afraid to take a bullet… Also, the first assignment where the Secret Service was called into action was to stop grave robbers from stealing Lincoln’s dead body,” said Meltzer. “The agents had taken me into a small museum they have on the premises. Then one of the agents offered this secret: When Ronald Reagan was President, he carried his own gun.”

Not even Bush was aware of this, according to Meltzer.

“(Bush has) been kind enough to answer questions as I research my novels. But Bush was far more impressed with the initial news about his former boss. He had no idea Reagan carried a gun,” said Meltzer. “His greatest help has been that he’s shown me how a President truly lives… As with the full series, I got help from (Bush, who’s a fan of Meltzer’s books). At this point, I can make up whatever I want. But there’s nothing like asking questions of one of the few people on this planet who know what life is really like in the White House.”

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available