Who could resist a story that links Jerry Siegel’s creation of Superman with the first murder in history – the legendary Cain and Abel story? Brad Meltzer’s The Book of Lies makes that link, in a thriller with an intriguing premise that sweeps you along at a non-stop pace almost from the first.
Cal Harper, a young man who helps homeless people get off the streets, faces his own demons as he encounters his father 19 years after the man went to prison for being responsible for the death of his wife, Cal’s mother. But Lloyd Harper has become involved in a mildly shady deal that soon ensnares Cal as well, mushrooming into a quest for the ancient weapon that Cain used to kill Abel, at the beginning of human history.
Legendary weapons constitute a significant theme in this book, for the gun used to kill Superman-creator Siegel’s father, Mitchell, is also used to wound Lloyd Harper 75 years later. That gun, like Cain’s original weapon, has become almost an instrument of ritual, used in a revival of another primal theme. As Ellis Belasco, the villain of the piece, thinks to himself, “Of course. It had to come back to father and son. Just as it began with Adam and Cain. Just as it was with Mitchell and Jerry Siegel. It was the same when he’d first heard the truth about his own family – the lifelong lie his father had told him.”
The father-son theme or, more properly, the parent-child, weaves through the book as we discover in almost all the characters’ lives the fallout from parental loss, abuse, and abandonment. Yet Naomi, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer who begins hunting both Ellis and the fleeing Cal and Lloyd, provides the balance in that equation: a parent whose first concern is the safety and security of her adopted son. Her love for the boy, and even Cal’s own work on the streets, offer a promise of redemption to counteract the tragedies.
The book isn’t perfect, of course. The occasional thing did feel a bit implausible. Would all the characters really always have deciphered the clues leading to the next step quite so quickly? It’s possible that they all actually were that good, but you did raise your eyebrows now and then. Still, it was always fun to see who would ambush whom, at the next step of the chase.
The discovery of the hard-sought documents, and the drama of the revelation of the shadowy person pulling strings behind the scene, lead finally to a sweet and moving conclusion as all themes in this book gather together at last. Yet the Big Truth at the end, the secret of the ages, is something of a letdown, a bit of a platitude.
But that’s not a flaw in this book, as such; it’s a problem with any book whose plot involves the Eternal Verities. Because the truly transcendent, legendary truths are so infinite and indescribable that, well, they’re indescribable. So while the grand human truth at the end of this book is indeed profound, by its (and our) very nature, it can’t live up to its advance PR. The Eternal Verities remain just out of our reach.
But the Verities aside, the story is a rather mad race from Miami to Cleveland and finally to Marina del Rey, California, creating an intriguing puzzle as you try to discern just who are the bad guys, and who are the good. And how the Book of Lies relates to, of all things, comic books.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who reads this genre, and even for those who (like me), often don’t. And for something extra, check out Brad Meltzer’s website, explore all the great goodies (there are a lot of them) connected with this book, visit his blog, find out about his favourite causes — be inspired.