Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

The Inner Circle (The Culper Ring #1)
By: Brad Meltzer
Publisher: Grand Central
ISBN: 978-1455561391


Working in the National Archives, surrounded by documents both anecdotal and critical to to the history of the United States, Beecher White was content to revel in his role as a guardian of history -- never a player. The past possesses a comforting finite quality, one Beecher has found himself increasingly retreating towards since the dissolution of his engagement and the future he'd thought was within his reach. Until one day, Clementine Kaye, the childhood crush he'd never been able to forget, comes whirling back into his life with the force of a hurricane. Eager to impress her and prove that he's more akin to the adventurous side of Indiana Jones than that famous fictional archaeologist's bookish and professorial "day job," he agrees to help her find her long-lost father. But a simple records request turns complicated when, on impulse, he agrees to let her in one of the top-secret vaults where high-profile guests -- in this case, the President -- can request and review documents. 

But Beecher's rule-breaking impulse backfires when an accident in the vault uncovers something they were never meant to find -- a centuries-old, gutted dictionary that may have once belonged to George Washington. Washington, the founder of the legendary spy network the Culper Ring, known for hiding messages in plain sight, under the most innocuous of pretexts. But if the dictionary is a message, it raises the question of who would be trying to reach the president in one of his most secure, private locations...or, who could the president be trying to reach outside normal channels, and why? When the security guard who let him into the vault turns up dead, Beecher finds himself thrust into the fight of his life to discover the meaning behind the dictionary, uncovering a web of conspiracies and cover-ups reaching the highest levels of government. When everyone has something to lose, who can he trust...for one thing Beecher is sure of, no one can take on a sitting president and emerge unscathed...

Those who have been reading my reviews for a while may note that The Inner Circle is somewhat out of my reading norm. But having heard Brad Meltzer on the radio last week promoting the third installment of his Culper Ring series, I knew I had to check these books out. The concept sounded too irresistibly akin to the National Treasure movies, which I loved. This was a reading gamble that paid off. I cannot remember the last time I read a novel so quickly -- over the course of four days I could barely bring myself to put this book down. 

The Inner Circle is a highly readable, thoroughly entertaining blend of history, mystery, and suspense. Sure, it's arguably unrealistic and convoluted, but I found myself enthralled by every twist and turn. (Though, seriously, a chapter is not two pages long. And most of these "chapters" are. But it does give you the sense that you're reading the book faster, I suppose...) If more political thrillers of this ilk were made into television shows or films I would be so there.  

This is entertaining, escapist fiction that should drive anyone who finds themselves intrigued by what they find within its pages to their history books. And the best part, for me at any rate, is the sense one gets of excavating history's secrets right alongside Beecher in his adrenaline-fueled quest for the truth. Comparing this series to an Indiana Jones film feels on target, but rather than physical exploits in far-flung lands, Meltzer gives us a thirty-something, bookish hero whose most remarkable quality is arguably that he is so average. Beecher, for all his mistakes, embodies the idea that given the chance the most ordinary individual is capable of being a world-changer. 

If this book has a fault, it's that it perhaps tries too hard to be clever. The puzzle Meltzer sets forth within these pages contains enough twists, turns, and red herrings to give one whiplash, and occasionally the ultra-short chapters -- including viewpoint changes and flashbacks -- make the narrative feel choppy and disconnected. That said, I still devoured every word...and any book that I literally can't put down deserves all credit for not just holding my attention but captivating it. 

The Inner Circle is an incredibly fun, roller-coaster ride of an introduction to Meltzer's work, and I look forward to exploring his backlist -- especially catching up with Beecher's second and third adventures. Meltzer writes with a cinematic flair, the result a blend of NCIS-style suspense and The West Wing's political intrigue. If you're looking for a summer read blending history and cutthroat political intrigue, look no further...the only problem you may run into is finding time to sleep. :)

About the book:

There are stories no one knows. Hidden stories. I love those stories. And since I work in the National Archives, I find those stories for a living.
Beecher White, a young archivist, spends his days working with the most important documents of the U.S. government. He has always been the keeper of other people's stories, never a part of the story himself...

Until now.

When Clementine Kaye, Beecher's first childhood crush, shows up at the National Archives asking for his help tracking down her long-lost father, Beecher tries to impress her by showing her the secret vault where the President of the United States privately reviews classified documents. After they accidentally happen upon a priceless artifact - a 200 hundred-year-old dictionary that once belonged to George Washington, hidden underneath a desk chair, Beecher and Clementine find themselves suddenly entangled in a web of deception, conspiracy, and murder.

Soon a man is dead, and Beecher is on the run as he races to learn the truth behind this mysterious national treasure. His search will lead him to discover a coded and ingenious puzzle that conceals a disturbing secret from the founding of our nation. It is a secret, Beecher soon discovers, that some believe is worth killing for.

Gripping, fast-paced, and filled with the fascinating historical detail for which he is famous, THE INNER CIRCLE is a thrilling novel that showcases a brilliant author writing at the height of his craft.

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