'The President's Shadow': Best-selling author to sign latest novel at local events

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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” (Grand Central Publishing $28), began with him waking up 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. 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.’”

He’ll be signing copies of this book on Monday, June 22 at the Rochester Church of Christ in Rochester Hills at 2 p.m. and the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit in West Bloomfield at 7
p.m. (see related story below).

“Coming to Michigan means coming home.  I go to my old restaurants, old hangouts, and… see old friends,” he said.

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, a U-M whom Beecher crossed swords with in the last two books, 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.”

According to Meltzer, Reagan hid a .38 in his briefcase and took it on Air Force One. When he started carrying and for how long, nobody’s sure. It’s also unclear why he carried since he was protected by the Secret Service.

“I’ve been asking myself that question ever since,” said Meltzer, who believes Reagan started arming himself after John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate him on March 30, 1981. “That’s been my guess, but it’s just a guess.”

As to why this tidbit about Reagan hasn’t been public knowledge, Meltzer stated, “Every President has secrets.”

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.”

Whenever a President leaves office, it is a private tradition for him to leave a note to his successor. Reagan did it with Bush; Bush did it with Clinton; Clinton did it with George W. Bush; and the younger Bush did it with Obama. During his last moments in the White House, Reagan scribbled a note for Bush that said: “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” He then slipped it into the Oval Office desk for him. Meltzer emailed Bush, asking him if secrets were passed in the letter from President to President.

“To my surprise, it didn’t take long for (Bush) to write me back. But instead of answering my question, something was attached to his response. My eyes went wide as I realized what it was: The never-before-seen secret letter that (Bush) left for (Clinton),” said Meltzer. “For days, I combed through it, using every historical code I knew. I tried the codes invented by Thomas Jefferson, Civil War encryption, I put every sentence into an anagram generator. I even wrote out the third letter of each word, waiting to see if it spelled out, ‘I hate you, Bill.’ Don’t forget, at the moment this letter was written right after the (1992) election, Bush had every reason to despise Clinton. But the more I combed through it, all I kept finding was a note of pure generosity and class. He wished (Clinton) only luck and success.”

While “Shadow” marks the end of this trilogy, Meltzer stated that readers haven’t seen the last of Beecher. However, Beecher won’t be in his next thriller.

“But soon,” promised Meltzer.

In addition to penning thrillers, Meltzer has also written comic books and the “I AM” series of non-fiction children’s books featuring historical figures. So far, Meltzer has spotlighted Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, Jackie Robinson, and Albert Einstein. In July, “I AM Lucille Ball” will be released. In the near future, Helen Keller and Martin Luther King, Jr. will take center stage.

These books came about thanks to his daughter more than three years ago. Meltzer took her clothes-shopping and all they could find were shirts with Disney princesses on them. In that instant, Meltzer wanted his children to see true heroes, not just Disney princesses and sports stars. He wanted them to learn the difference between heroism and fame.

“Whether we like it or not, our kids will pick their heroes,” he said. “You might as well have some say in it. Today, our definition of ‘heroes’ is broken. We’ve confused ‘fame’ and ‘hero.’ This is my way of trying to set it right… Look around. We live in a world that is starving for heroes. This is our solution. Want to really change the world? Build a library for your kids.”

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Book signings scheduled

Brad Meltzer will be signing “The President’s Shadow” at the Rochester Church of Christ, located at 250 W. Avon Road in Rochester Hills, from 2-4 p.m. on Monday, June 22. This event is sponsored by the Rochester Hills Public Library.

You must register for this event. A limited number of free tickets will be available. For more information about ticket availability, call the Library Information Desk at 248-656-2900.

Later that evening from 7-9, Meltzer  also be signing in Handleman Hall of the Jewish Community Center, located at 6600 W. Maple Road in West Bloomfield. This event is sponsored by the West Bloomfield Public Library.

You must register for this event. A limited number of free tickets will be available. For more information about ticket availability, call the Library Information Desk at 248-232-2290.

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