Sunday, September 21, 2008

“The Book of Lies” by Brad Meltzer

Cain kills Abel in Chapter Four of the Bible. It is the world's most famous murder. But the Bible is silent about one key detail: the weapon Cain used to kill his brother. That weapon is still lost to history.

In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was killed by three gunshots to his chest. While mourning, his son dreamed of a bulletproof man and created the world's greatest hero: Superman. And like Cain's murder weapon, the gun used in this unsolved murder has never been found.

Until now.

Today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cal Harper comes face-to-face with his family's greatest secret: his long-lost father, who's been shot with a gun that traces back to Mitchell Siegel's 1932 murder. But before Cal can ask a single question, he and his father are attacked by a ruthless killer tattooed with the ancient markings of Cain. And so begins the chase for the world's first murder weapon.

What does Cain, history's greatest villain, have to do with Superman, the world's greatest hero? And what do two murders, committed thousands of years apart, have in common? This is the mystery at the heart of Brad Meltzer's riveting and utterly intriguing new thriller.
Hmmm. Superman and ancient religious objects of power. All of the elements for a good fantasy with a side dish of thriller and conspiracy. So I plunged in. Early on a conversation occurs between Cal and his co-worker Roosevelt that pretty much summarizes the absurdity of most conspiracy stories. Truth from the characters own lips so to speak.
"Roosevelt, I'm trying hard to not be paranoid. I really am. But now my long-lost father just happens to be bleeding in the one park that just happens to be on the homeless route of his long abandoned son, who just happens to've worked at the one place that just happens to be holding on to the one package that he just happens to be trying to pick up? Forget the designer shoes—that's a helluva lotta happenstance, with an extra-large order of coincidence."
And of course there is no coincidence. Chapter by chapter Meltzer carefully reveals the conspiracy, trickling out a detail here and a tidbit there. An ancient organization called Thule wants the ancient murder weapon that slew Abel for their own schemes, believing it to be an object of power. Scholarly details about the nature of the object are discussed, connections to the Nazi’s are made and of course the cornerstone event of how the death of the father of the creator of Superman ties in. It all adds up in a very tenuous way.

But we never really get to see into the heart of the Thule organization, other then a glimpse of a few individuals and a murky understanding of their ultimate agenda. In the end this diminishes the impact of their actions and thus the story, reducing it to little more then a scavenger hunt. There are no bigger then life characters to be found here. Just a few ordinary folks making the best of their lives and broken dreams. Even the bad guys and their delusions seem less than extraordinary.

Much is made of the Mitchell Seigel/Superman genesis component of the tale. In his Acknowledgements and Author’s Notes (and website for that matter), Brian Meltzer takes great pains to point out the depth of his research. The Book of Lies fundamentally links the murder of Cain with the murder of Mitchell Siegel. The problem is some quick Wikipedia research easily reveals that Mitchell Siegel was not murdered but died of a heart attack during a robbery (read the article here) . Metzger acknowledges awareness of this, but selectively chooses to go with the rumours. Yes this is just fiction and I really don’t have a problem with authors selectively choosing facts that make for a better story, but then they shouldn’t trumpet the research as if it was truth.

Fantasy requires us to “suspend our disbelief” to be successful and a good conspiracy story is contrary, requiring us to have some small belief in the purported facts to carry us along. The Book of Lies is not a compelling case for either. There is also an awkward father/son parable presented as the stories subtext that didn’t quite work for me-an uneasy mix with the conspiracy framework.

Inevitably a comparison to other successful conspiracy novels with grand themes such as The Da Vinci Code must be drawn. Quoting Meltzers alleged grandmother, The Book of Lies gets a D+.

Read the first chapter.

View the book trailer. Not sure of how much of a put on this is but it sure is funny . . .


  1. Ooo! This sounds like an interesting book but I love the video more. His grandma is the best! I've already watched it five or six times on various sites.

  2. Great review! As I have this book in my TBR pile, I had to skim some of it, but it kinda seems like I should keep it where it is instead of reading it anytime soon. Still, I'm curious about the story.

  3. Ladytink_534 I wish I knew for sure that he made the video himself. If so he has quite the self-deprecating sense of humour.

    Thanks Heather. I enjoyed the story well enough, it moves along really well, it just isn't one of those real edge-of-your-seat thrillers. I guess it is easy to set high expectations of these types of stories.


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