Sunday, September 7, 2008

Brad Meltzer: The Book of Lies

How do you tie Cain’s murder of Able, the creation of the Superman comics, and a modern day thriller together? That’s the challenge Brad Meltzer accepted in The Book of Lies. Apparently he has wanted to write this story for years. I suppose his success with earlier books gave him the courage to write, and his publisher courage to accept this story.

We already know that early in Genesis Cain kills Abel. But is he really the bad guy history makes him out to be? Or is there another interpretation? What was the murder weapon? Now fast forward a few millennia. Mitchell Siegel was shot and killed in during a robbery in Cleveland. The murder was never investigated, much less solved. Shortly afterwards his teenage son Jerry Siegel, creates a cartoon about a bullet-proof man – Superman. How do these events relate? I certainly won’t tell you; it’s woven through to plot of The Book of Lies.

So now jump forward another three quarters of a century and we meet Cal Harper. Cal is a former (disgraced) officer with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now he works for a homeless shelter. He drives around Fort Lauderdale in a beat up old van picking up indigents and taking them to the shelter. His life gets complicated, and our plot takes off, when he is called to pick up a man with a fresh gunshot wound. Turns out the man is Lloyd Harper, his father whom he has not seen in 19 years, since Lloyd left for prison after killing Cal’s mother. I bet you can guess that we have some family issues.

In the mean time Ellis Belasco is on the track of an ancient lost artifact. Since the first thing we see him do is murder a man, we pretty well know Ellis will be a bad guy. But we also learn pretty early that Lloyd Harper is a truck driver, making a pickup of a shipping container for Ellis. Is Ellis smuggling something? What might it be?

Cal has helped Lloyd get the container through customs. But he pulls favors from old friends that are not strictly by the book. So we also meet Special Agent Naomi Molina of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

From this point the book turns into a treasure hunt, with multiple parties following clues, tracking the prize and/or each other. But no one really knows what the prize is. As the story unfolds we learn more about Cain, and more about Jerry Siegel.

Meltzer also takes this opportunity to explore the relationships between parent and child in a number of contexts. Although I suppose none of the relationships are stereotypically “normal”.

The Book of Lies unfolds with all the twists and suspense that you would expect from an accomplished thriller writer like Meltzer. He does a good job of relating the Cain and Abel story with the Superman story. And he does close out the story with an acceptable conclusion. But I can’t say that I completely bought the whole premise. The story requires a certain suspension of reality. Not as much as a fantasy like Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings, but still a suspension. But I don’t mind that. After all, I’m looking for a good story, and got one.

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