I’m a Brad Meltzer fan, but I’ll admit I hesitated before picking up his new novel, “The House of Secrets.” The reason? Meltzer has joined the ranks of best-selling authors — folks like James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, and a number of others — who have taken on a co-writer.
It’s a phenomenon that puzzles me, though I suspect the idea is to help the best-selling writer pump out more books. The partnerships no doubt differ in the details, but one thing is always the same: the best-selling author’s name always dominates the cover.
For “The House of Secrets,” Meltzer worked with Tod Goldberg, an author whose credits include novels tied-in to the television series “Burn Notice.” According to the book’s publicity materials, Goldberg is known for “complex, compelling characters.”
The characters in “The House of Secrets” are, perhaps, more complex than many of Meltzer’s previous creations. In other Meltzer books I have read, including entries in the series starring archivist Beecher White, the characters’ motivations can seem overly black and white (even when Meltzer is actively trying to disguise a person’s true motives). It is possible that Goldberg provides a corrective.
In all other ways, the book reads like a Brad Meltzer novel — a modern day thriller that turns on an historical mystery. “The House of Secrets” features Hazel Nash, who suffers a brain injury early in the novel. Left with gaps in her memory, Hazel struggles to learn the truth about herself and her famous family (as well as how Benedict Arnold might figure into their lives). The importance of family is an ongoing theme of Meltzer’s, and this book is steeped in family drama.
“The House of Secrets” hurtles toward its ending and might leave readers scratching their heads over some of the plot details. The book is clearly set up as the first in a series (and the authors open up the possibility of a robust crossover with the Beecher White series), so some of the murkier moments may be clarified in future entries. Despite my skepticism about co-authored thrillers, I’ll probably be along for the ride.