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Twist of Fate

  The Book of Fate
Brad Meltzer
Warner Books, 2006
Rating: 3.7

Posted: September 8, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Thanks to its cover and its own inside jacket copy, which refers to ďa decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, mysterious facts buried in Masonic history, and a two-hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson,Ē Brad Meltzerís The Book of Fate is unmistakably targeted at fans of The Da Vinci Code. And why not? At last count, Dan Brownís compelling yet leaden thriller was read by roughly everyone on the planet save for a couple of invalids in Botswana. Itís arguably the publishing industryís largest recent success story that doesnít involve Harry Potter. If it hasnít already been done, itís only a matter of time before Brownís conspiracy-friendly formula is adapted to chick lit, so-called literary fiction and even Dr. Phil self-help manuals.

But Meltzerís been working the conspiracies-and-political-intrigue beat for a decade, and while The Book of Fate does at first invite comparisons to Da Vinci and its many clones, it only takes a couple of pages to realize youíre not in the Louvre anymore. Fate hews far closer to previous Meltzer efforts like The Zero Game and The First Counsel. While the story does indeed reference a code invented by Thomas Jefferson and some Masonic trivia, those elements are basically window dressing for a conventional yet sturdy, page-turning political thriller.

Whatís not so conventional is Meltzerís protagonist: Wes Holloway, a cocksure young aide whose life and face are both wrecked during an attempt on the life of his boss, President Leland Manning. Hollowayís confidence is shattered by the bullet that permanently scars his cheek and takes away control of half his facial muscles. Worse, however, he blames himself for a last-minute change in plans that put Deputy Chief of Staff Ron Boyle in the sniperís path, resulting in the latterís untimely death.

Eight years after the shooting, Wes still works for the dethroned Manning in Palm Beach, afraid to leave the safe and familiar confines of his job. But when he stumbles across Boyle, whoís still very much alive (albeit altered by cosmetic surgery), Wes begins to question the events of that fateful day. Soon, heís being dogged by a couple of federal-agent types, and his worst fear has come to life: Nico, the crazed assassin who destroyed his face and his life, has broken out of custody and is heading to Florida to complete his deadly mission. In fear for his life, forced to relive the event that changed his life forever, he questions the motives of some of his closest allies -- including the mentor who got him that career-making job as a presidential aide, the gossip columnist looking to help him uncover the story of the year, and even the man heís selflessly served for the better part of a decade.

Wes Holloway is neither the infallible superhero of so many thrillers and detective novels (are you listening, Spenser?) or Dan Brownís flat, history-spouting Harvard professor. Meltzer takes a risk in making his protagonist so vulnerable, frightened and emotionally stuck, and it pays off quite well. Even as the reader feels himself getting impatient and wishing the guy would just grow a spine already, heís also fully absorbed in Hollowayís dilemma. Heís certainly the most human and relatable character Meltzer (who also co-created the WB series Jack & Bobby and wrote DCís smash mini-series Identity Crisis) has yet created.

His antagonist, on the other hand, taxes the patience for another reason. Poor manipulated Nico will certainly seem familiar to Da Vinci readers, and his delusions and obsessions feel a bit overwrought. Whatís more, the ease with which he makes his way to his final confrontation in Florida reeks of movie logic: He has to get to Palm Beach to haunt Wes, and so he does, despite driving around with a corpse for a conversation partner. (Thatís another thing; for a guy so clearly disconnected from the real world, he sure knows how to kill people in plain sight without raising the suspicion of anyone -- especially the authorities.)

Well, this is a thriller, after all, and a well-executed one, so Nicoís credulity-straining passages can be overcome with a grain of salt. Itís Meltzerís characterizations -- of Wes, to be sure, and especially his guilt-plagued gossip columnist ally Lisbeth -- that drive The Book of Fate more than Nico or the serviceable (and plausible) story surrounding the reappearance of Ron Boyle and the shadowy figures with an interest in stopping Wes from getting any closer to the truth.

New readers might come to The Book of Fate for its conspiracy-theory trappings, but itís Meltzerís assured beach-read pacing (engaging the readerís interest anew every few pages) and especially the personal journey of its broken main character that will keep them involved in this agreeably engrossing page-turner. And thatís certainly more than you can say about The Da Vinci Code.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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