Brad Melzer’s latest novel opens irresistibly with the First Lady discovering a severed hand in the Rose Garden during an early morning spot of horticulture. Meanwhile, Beecher White, a young archivist who handles classified documents for the White House, struggles with the truth about how his father really died. Beecher is also a member of the Culper Group, a secret society devoted to the protection of the President, whatever it takes, whatever the cost. When told about the First Lady’s grim discovery, he immediately spots a connection to his dad, the trade-off for him: find out about the identity of the body missing a limb and you get to see the file on your father.
The novel provides a genuinely fascinating insight into the mechanics of the Secret service and US government, a sort of West Wing on amphetamines. Ruthlessness is the name of the game and there is a horrible authenticity about the way in which those in positions of great power are depicted. With vivid characters and ‘fruitcakes’ worthy of the best of James Patterson’s bad guys, the storyline zips along. Dialogue is snappy and there are some fabulously memorable lines but, I’ll be honest, there was an early point when I feared the book wasn’t my bag. I don’t particularly care for multiple viewpoints and back and forth chronology even though I could appreciate why the device is used here. I’m not a fan of split viewpoints in a scene either. With one character burnt and scarred and another spitting blood and bone due to terminal disease, there were times when I found it all a bit peculiar. And yet…
Short chapters, brilliant pace, and with an original voice for sure, I was hooked. A sucker for strong, involving stories featuring close familial relationships, I was not disappointed. The sheer strangeness in the storytelling is what makes this novel unique and kept me entranced. Every time I thought, ‘Whoa, I’m not sure…’ I realised that there was absolutely no way I could abandon ship because I just had to find out what the hell happened next. Weird and whacky, like nothing I’ve ever read before, it’s oddly wonderful.
The President’s Shadow is published by Hodder and Stoughton.