My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I listened to this book as an audiobook, and that may have affected my perception of it. I really wanted to like it–I loved the overarching mystery, and Meltzer clearly knows his stuff when it comes to little-known White House/Washington, D.C., history. But for every point in which he awed me with delicately folded in historical detail, there were two points where he had characters speaking or acting clunkily.
I mean, I know there needs to be an explanatory character in a mystery, just in case the audience really doesn’t get it, but characters who are otherwise repeatedly heralded as really smart cookies end up acting like total morons, with no apparent rational behind it. Additionally–and maybe this was just because of the audiobook that it stuck out more–but Meltzer uses the phrase “eyes locked” a gazillion times (I started counting, but the number got too big for me). Build the drama with another phrase, please!
As a writer, I found the unusual use of tense to tell the story very interesting: the main character speaks in present tense, while every other characters’ perspective is told in past tense. It took awhile to get used to, but ultimately allowed the reader (listener) to bond a bit more with Beacher, the lead character, while allowing Meltzer to continue with a broader omniscient view.
It was a great way to pass about 12 hours in a road trip, especially because I didn’t mind dozing through the stupid or boring bits. I feel like I know a lot more about the National Archive, and I loved the idea of a quiet detail-oriented archivist finding himself in the midst of a dangerous political intrigue–it just didn’t quite come together for me. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a light political mystery and are a huge history nerd, but I won’t be giving the sequel my attention.