'The Inner Circle': Novelist counts former President among his fans

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Ever since his first novel was published in 1997, New York Times best-selling novelist and University of Michigan alumnus Brad Meltzer never had a recurring character ... until now.

Meltzer's latest thriller, "The Inner Circle," was released in paperback on Sept. 13. It is the first in a new series featuring Beecher White, who works for the National Archives.

The plot of "Circle" centers on Beecher, who discovers an unsettling secret about George Washington and the birth of the United States. There are forces at work that want that secret to stay buried at all costs. Further, Beecher learns the Culper Ring--a cabal of civilians Washington relied on to spy on the British during the Revolutionary War--still exists, working behind the scenes.

"(The Culper Ring) weren't military men. They were regular citizens. Just like us... They were the secret weapon of the Revolutionary War, even though they were never in most history books. You're telling me the first President of the United States had a secret spy group that saved our country? I'm interested," said Meltzer, 41, of Florida. "And as I talked to my National Security (sources), we kept coming back to one idea: Who says this secret group was ever disbanded? Who says it doesn't exist today? When someone in National Security said to me: 'I wish we had the Culper Ring today'--that's when I knew I had the plot for the book."

Meltzer is renowned for his pain-staking research into his novels, which usually involve the power elite in Washington, D.C. One of the people whom he interviewed was former President George H.W. Bush, who happens to be a fan of Meltzer's books.

Bush's relationship with Meltzer began when the former president sent the author a fan letter that praised his 2002 novel "The Millionaires." He also asked for a signed copy, which Meltzer provided.

"I really did get a letter from Bush on that fateful day," said Meltzer. "I was so fascinated with the idea that this man, who was once the most powerful man in the world, now stops at red lights again... They're not just leaving the White House, they're starting a new life--this is a new world they're going into. They don't enter a hotel through the back, they walk in through the front like the rest of us. When they pick up the phone, it goes from 'Yes, Mr. President?' to a dial tone."

"The Inner Circle" isn't the first book where Meltzer interviewed Bush. Bush, along with former President Bill Clinton, provided invaluable information for Meltzer's 2006 novel, "The Book of Fate."

"(Getting a fan letter from Bush) just makes it a little easier to say, 'Can I spend some time with you for research?' The best part is, because I write fiction, I always get to see far more than what they'd show a reporter who's out to burn them," said Meltzer.

In addition to writing novels, Meltzer hosts "Brad Meltzer's Decoded," which returns for a second season sometime within the next several months (Meltzer does not have an exact date) on The History Channel. In "Decoded," Meltzer and a team of experts take a closer look at history's mysteries.

An unabashed fan of comic books, Meltzer wrote 2004's "Identity Crisis" for DC Comics--which featured Superman and Batman, two of his favorite characters--was a murder mystery where someone was targeting the loved ones of super-heroes.

"Superman means something to people. He stands for something--something important that's bigger than all of us: truth, justice, and the American way. It's a great catchphrase--but it's serious and it matters. And Superman matters. Now more than ever, America needs heroes. We are a country starving for heroes."

Meltzer's recent comic book work was on Dark Horse Comics' "Buffy the Vampire Slayer--Season 8: Twilight," which is a continuation of the 1997 to 2003 TV series that ran for seven seasons on The WB and later UPN networks. The "Buffy" comics are considered canonical since they're being overseen by creator Joss Whedon.

"It was truly an honor (to write 'Buffy')," Meltzer fondly recalled. "Joss let us celebrate his characters and the medium they were now in."

Scott Allie, editor of the "Buffy" comics, returned the compliment.

"Brad was fun to work with, always amped up, and interested in all aspects of the book, excited, and focused on the details. Most of 'Buffy Season 8' was written by show writers, but it's nice that the few comics writers who joined that team were among the very best," Allie said.

Published: Wed, Sep 14, 2011