Brad Meltzer talks about THE HOUSE OF SECRETS
The House of Secrets delves into espionage, government corruption, family secrets, blackmail, betrayal, murder, and historical deceptions. Meltzer has become the king of the mystery conspiracy. This book questions whether Benedict Arnold was a traitor and the implications it has regarding the death of the host of an investigative conspiracy TV show. His daughter, Hazel Nash, attempts to find answers while working with FBI agent Trevor Rabkin.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Brad Meltzer: Eight years ago at the National Archives I was shown the Oath of Allegiance. Those who signed it agreed not to betray the US. One of those names was Benedict Arnold, who was a distinguished military man. Before he became a traitor he had put his life on the line for our country. In that moment when I saw his signature the story all came together for me. I could not get out of my head the story of the last moments between Benedict Arnold and George Washington. It has been said that the portrayal was one of the few times Washington actually cried in public. It is unbelievable that Arnold asked for his baggage and clothes with Washington delivering them immediately. The conspiracy presents itself because no one knows what was in the baggage.
EC: You pose the question in this book, why do we remember the name of Benedict Arnold when there are many other traitors throughout history that we cannot remember? I am posing it to you.
BM: I think there is something said for being the first traitor. It is interesting how other traitors killed far more people; yet, Arnold was caught before his plan went into action, to hang Washington in the center of New York. I see him as a complicated person. I like to explore how we are all two amazing people in the same body: courageous and cowardly, incredible and terrible.
EC: The book dives into conspiracies. Please explain.
BM: It used to be conspiracy theorists were a small fringe group on the edges of society. Today, conspiracies are the main stream. We have Donald Trump, a current Presidential candidate, who uses conspiracies in his campaign: Ted Cruz’s dad was accused of being involved with the JFK assassination and Vince Foster’s death with Hillary Clinton. It is writing a history of the history.
EC: Do you believe in conspiracies?
BM: I do. There are no absolutes in life so anyone who believes that all the conspiracies are true or none at all is silly. I think sometimes the government is absolutely lying and sometimes not. I don’t believe in all of them, but do believe in some. I used the Nixon and Kennedy names for my characters because they were the best conspiracies of all. The one that was solved and the one we still cannot answer: Watergate and the JFK assassination.
EC: Beecher White made a cameo appearance. Will he play more of a role in future books?
BM: He will not be in the next book, but the one after that he might make a comeback. A political writer who wrote thrillers once told me ‘If I write that character again I want to put a gun in my mouth.’ I said to myself I never want to be that writer who hates my character that I am supposed to love so much.
EC: Please describe you new protagonist, Hazel Nash?
BM: She is nicknamed the Werewolf, because she cannot be contained. With the amnesia she is able to live her life over again. By not remembering her past she has a chance for redemption and is able to recreate her life. I hope readers think she is a fun and competent character. There are many unresolved questions about her life: What happened to her mother, where did she come from, and what problems did she have in her past life that will come back to haunt her?
EC: You seem to like animal nicknames. Hazel is the Werewolf, the assassin is the Bear, but why name the FBI agent the Rabbit?
BM: When he fought in Afghanistan he was the fastest to react. As an agent now he wants to respond quickly, which is what drives him. The case assigned to him allows for that. For each character with an animal nickname, it was done to give them the attributes of that animal.
EC: One of the themes of the book is sacrifice. Correct?
BM: Yes. People are willing to sacrifice for family and friends. They are a key part of each other’s life. They fight like a mad dog for each other and bring out the best and the worst self. Hazel will do anything to protect those close to her. I put in the book a true story told to me by an intelligence military officer. It explains how far we will go for our family and the basic theme of the book. A dictator’s top lieutenant had a child who was very ill. To heal him, they needed to give this child the kind of medical care only the United States could provide. In exchange for treating the child, the U.S. gained an incredible new asset who reported directly to us. This reluctant spy, whose name I can’t divulge because he’s still alive, helped the U.S. keep arsenals out of the hands of extremists, without anyone knowing. With his lieutenant acting as a middleman, he also assisted in a covert financial investigation. And all the while, he still hated us.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book projects?
BM: I never tease the new book because I don’t want to get writer’s block. Hopefully, it will be out in a year, but in September my next children’s book comes out entitled I am George Washington. We started the children’s series because I was tired about hearing of loud-mouthed athletes and TV stars considered heroes. My goal is to teach children about their own power and to look up to real heroes of history. The age group is for 5 to 10 years. I am proud that it is the number one illustrated children’s series of the last decade. I think that is because people are tired of searching for American heroes for their children.