It’s not easy being first lady. Just ask Shona Wallace. The only way she can indulge her private passion for gardening is in the predawn hours, on the only patch of White House grounds not under 24-hour surveillance. But her morning dig in the dirt becomes a national problem when she unearths a human arm, its fist clenching an artifact that links a convicted-but-escaped assassin, a decades-old Army special unit, and National Archivist Beecher White.
Geek-hero, citizen-spy Beecher returns again in the third of this Dan Brown-meets-Doris Kearns Goodwin political thriller series (following The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin). Author Brad Meltzer continues to till his fertile cache of state secrets, and seeds his time-traveling plot with conspiracy theories and obscure names dropped from American history (Hercules Mulligan and Alek Hidell—look them up). He has Beecher and President Orson Wallace working together on this one, despite their ongoing antipathy; as a current member of the Culper Ring, sworn since Revolutionary times to protect the presidency, Beecher may be the only one POTUS can trust when the threat points to an insider.
Meltzer hops between points of view and between years, weeks, and days to ratchet up the suspense, and doesn’t take a breath even in the final pages, as The Big Reveal gives way to another set of twists and deceptions that won’t restore anyone’s faith in the federal government.
The real tension, and resolution, however, is between fathers (and father figures) and their offspring. The series has shown how Beecher and his childhood friends Clementine and Marshall have each been shaped by the parent whose past, known or unknown, drives their present and may determine their future. In this book, the shadows cast by these men are finally brought to light. The ultimate question, though, is whether the characters can then make peace with themselves.