Bestselling author Brad Meltzer brings us his latest book, co-authored with Tod Goldberg, called “The House of Secrets.” You might know Brad from his TV shows, Lost History and Decoded.
His newest thriller “The House of Secrets” is about the host of America’s favorite conspiracy TV show. When he’s murdered, his daughter has to solve the crime and quickly realizes that the secret stories her father told her growing up were real. Yes, it’s full of secret history, including the coolest story you’ve ever heard about George Washington and Benedict Arnold. And yes, Brad is already working on his next thriller.
His book “The Inner Circle” (and its sequels, “The Fifth Assassin” and “The President’s Shadow”) is based on the idea that George Washington’s personal spy ring still exists today. A young archivist in the National Archives finds out the spy ring is still around. He doesn’t know who they work for—but the greatest secret of the Presidency is about to be revealed. While researching the book, former President George HW Bush also gave Brad, for the very first time, the secret letter he left for Bill Clinton in the Oval Office desk. Oh, and yes, Brad was recruited by the Department of Homeland Security to brainstorm different ways that terrorists might attack the US.
Let’s take a quick sneak peek inside “The House of Secrets” and then you can check out our exclusive interview with Brad below.
A secret worth killing for.
A woman with no past.
An act of treason that changed America.
When Hazel Nash was six years old, her father taught her: mysteries need to be solved. He should know. Hazel’s father is Jack Nash, the host of America’s favorite conspiracy TV show, The House of Secrets.
Even as a child, she loved hearing her dad’s tall tales, especially the one about a leather book belonging to Benedict Arnold that was hidden in a corpse.
Now, years later, Hazel wakes up in the hospital and remembers nothing, not even her own name. She’s told she’s been in a car accident that killed her father and injured her brother. But she can’t remember any of it, because of her own traumatic brain injury. Then a man from the FBI shows up, asking questions about her dad and about his connection to the corpse of a man found with an object stuffed into his chest: a priceless book that belonged to Benedict Arnold.
Back at her house, Hazel finds guns that she doesn’t remember owning. On her forehead, she sees scars from fights she can’t recall. Most important, the more Hazel digs, the less she likes the person she seems to have been.
Trying to put together the puzzle pieces of her past and present, Hazel Nash needs to figure out who killed this man, and how the book wound up in his chest. The answer will tell her the truth about her father, what he was really doing for the government, and who Hazel really is. Mysteries need to be solved. Especially the ones about yourself.
Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Why does history fascinate you (and us) so much?
Brad Meltzer (B.M.): History will always be a collection of our best stories. But history isn’t just a bunch of dates and facts that you memorize. History is a selection process—and it chooses every single one of us every single day. The only question is: do you hear the call?
Q: MAG.: What sparked the idea for “The House of Secrets”?
B.M.: This story: The last moments between Benedict Arnold and George Washington are among the most heartbreaking in U.S. history. It starts when Benedict Arnold is revealed as a traitor. Arnold races out of the house. He leaves his wife and child behind, jumps on his horse and rides away, toward the British.
Naturally, when Washington learns what’s happened, he’s devastated. They say it’s the only time the father of our country is ever seen crying. But the craziest part is what happens next: Alexander Hamilton shows up and delivers a handwritten letter from Benedict Arnold to George Washington. In it, Benedict asks his old friend for three things: 1) To protect Arnold’s wife Peggy, who everyone now wants to hang too. 2) He tells Washington that all of the commander’s aides are innocent and have nothing to do with Arnold’s treason. And 3), in one of the oddest requests a person could make in such a moment, Benedict Arnold asks that his clothes and baggage be sent to him.
Think about it. Benedict Arnold has just put a knife in the back of his best friend, become one of the most hated men since Judas, has basically abandoned his life, and his wife is in danger of being murdered—and what does he ask for? He wants his luggage. He even says he’ll pay for the expense of sending it. And for some reason, Washington obliges. It’s a moment no one can explain: Washington hates this man. He spends the rest of the war hunting him and calling for his death. So why in God’s name does he send Benedict Arnold a final care package? And what’s in this so-called luggage? To this day, no one knows the answer. As for my theory, it’s in “The House of Secrets,” of course. (How’s that for a tease?)
Q: MAG.: Why collaborate?
B.M.: Because I had an idea I just couldn’t shake. I’d gotten a phone call to come work with the US Government, brainstorming ways that terrorists would kill us. And then I’d heard this story about a secret letter that had been passed between Benedict Arnold and George Washington. And I thought, I have a great story to build around that. What I didn’t have was time. So after four years of thinking about it, I finally realized: If I don’t bring someone in, this idea will never see the light of day. From there, I decided I wanted to do the one thing I’d never seen done before with a co-author: I wanted to write a book that would be better than what either writer could do alone. Lucky for me, I found the brilliant Tod Goldberg.
Q: MAG.: How did you and Tod meet and agree to write together?
B.M.: Years ago, at the very first ThrillerFest, I met the writer Lee Goldberg. And the one thing I remember about Lee was this: he was funny. So when we started looking for writers, the publisher kept sending me all these mystery writers. The few I liked had time conflicts, and we kept hitting walls. And I knew one thing: Humor is a sign of intelligence. So I called Lee and said: Do you know anyone funny? And he said those fateful words: You should meet my brother.
Q: MAG.: Is the process different for you between writing solo and with someone else?
B.M.: How could it not be? We each wrote an entire book. From the start, I always had the plot of the book. So Tod flew to Florida and we locked ourselves in my kitchen for a long weekend. From there, we talked it through, and of course, changed much of it. Then Tod wrote a first draft, giving us this book with an incredible, fully realized character. And then I took that draft and rewrote the plot. I’d cut chapters, add cliffhangers, twist the mystery, and, well, there we were. When Tod finished, I said about his characters, “I don’t know how you do what you do.” And when I was done with the plot, he said to me, “I don’t know how you do what you do.” I think we were both in a bit of shock that it actually worked. Or at least that we didn’t kill each other.
Q: MAG.: What about conspiracies appeal to you?
B.M.: It’s a story where no one knows the ending. What could possibly be more fascinating than that?
Q: MAG.: Talk about your wonderful children’s books.
B.M.: This series was born because I was tired of my kids thinking that reality TV stars and loud-mouthed athletes were heroes. I tell my kids all the time: That’s fame. Fame is different than being a hero. I wanted my kids to see real heroes…and real people no different than themselves. For that reason, each book tells the story of the hero when THEY were a kid. We see them as children. So it’s not just Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln being famous — it’s them being just like us. Indeed, these aren’t the stories of famous people. This is what we’re all capable of on our very best days. In September, we’ll be coming out with “I am George Washington” and “I am Jane Goodall.” These books are my heart in book form.
Q: MAG.: Will we hopefully see you on TV again?
B.M.: Only if you clap your hands, and close your eyes, and say the words, “I believe in bald men.”
Q: MAG.: Is there a historical topic that you would love to write about, but have not figured out how to tackle yet?
B.M.: Absolutely. About a dozen of them.
Q: MAG.: What’s next for you?
B.M.: A new thriller in a new world. And a brand new character who haunts me.
We would like to thank Brad for taking the time to talk with us. For more information, check out his website: www.bradmeltzer.com. ■