The President’s Shadow, author, Brad Meltzer; narrator, Scott Brick
It is hard to write a review about a book you really did not enjoy very much. It had redeeming features because it had many action scenes and mysteries to solve, but it was brutally repetitive, too long, had excessive violence that was also too graphic and a couple of silly romances. It begins at a time in the future, after President Obama has left The White House, and the story moves back and forth from that time to a time 29 years previous when a heinous, secret experiment was conducted on servicemen. Beecher White is used by The White House to solve a mystery and catch a vicious criminal, but to engage him in the effort, a carrot is extended, the true story of his father’s death, decades ago.
When the book ended, I was almost as confused as I was when it began. There were loose ends which can only mean there will probably be another book in this or a new series shortly, with some of the unsolved issues, even though this, I read, is the third, and therefore, final one in the trilogy featuring Beecher White. Since, today, archivists cannot even manage to access Hillary Clinton’s lost emails in the current White House conspiracy drama, how could the archivists in the novel have been involved in such high level drama in this novel’s White House conspiracy and have been so successful and so powerful?
When body parts are suddenly discovered by the First Lady, in the garden at The White House which she tends faithfully, an investigation is launched which takes off in several directions. One involves secret groups, another involves secret experiments, murderers and madmen are afoot, and I was hard put to figure out who was the hero and who was the villain.
By the time the book ended, I understood only some of the innuendos and inferences; many went over my head and many loose ends continued to float around. There were mysteries that seemed unsolved and suggestions about lineage that went unanswered. The main idea I got from this novel was that evil was living in the White House, that lives were expended with abandon because the powers that be deemed it necessary, but honestly, I could not really understand why it was necessary, most of the time. It just seemed there might be a better way except for the author’s need to make the story bloodier and more conspiratorial.
President Wallace had secrets he did not want divulged, and apparently he would do anything to protect his image and reputation. From outward appearances, he was a loving parent and a devoted husband, committed to protecting the country, but deep down, he may have been more committed to protecting himself and a secret organization. We learn about several in the book: The Culper Ring, which originated by order of George Washington, the purpose of which was to spy on the British, but in the novel its purpose was to protect the presidency, not the actual president; the Knights of the Golden Circle, an evil, secret organization that was pro-slavery, according to several websites, but in the book was a splinter group that broke away from the Culper Ring because of a difference in philosophy; the Plankholders who were guinea pigs in an experiment gone wild in the book, but in actuality, according to Yahoo, Plank Holders were persons involved in the initial phase of a crew or experiment, and in the US Navy, “a plank owner or plank holder is an individual who was a member of the crew of a United States Navy ship or United States Coast Guard cutter when that ship was placed in commission”. From a Navy database, I learned that Plank-owner certificates are procured by and issued to crew members of the ship being commissioned; they are not officially issued by the Navy. So, I suppose another redeeming feature is that this book inspired me to investigate and research some of the information and terms presented in the book.
Are there other secret groups still operating out there? Has any organization infiltrated The White House? Is this President really squeaky clean? Will Aristotle Westman recover from his bullet wound in the head? In this novel, it was hard to discern truth from lie, fact from fiction because the novel, at its core, begins with a massive setup and continues to follow that path of setting scenes throughout the book.
On the positive side, there were bits of historic information sprinkled throughout, which were enlightening, if they indeed were true and not part of the staging, like how the order of numbers on dial phones were decided upon and how the dog tag came about as an ID for soldiers, and how the pressed penny with the Lord’s Prayer is a military tradition and how, after Monica Lewinski, cameras were removed from the area around the oval office.