The Book of Lies

(This review first appeared on on September 3, 2008)

Two murders form a tenuous link to the present and a centuries’ old mystery in Brad Meltzer’s The Book of Lies. Meltzer, the author of bestselling novels and comic books, weaves fact and fiction together in his latest thriller.

In the first fratricide of recorded history, Cain slays his brother Abel; the murder weapon is never identified.

In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was shot and killed in a seemingly random act of violence; neither the gun nor his assailant is ever found. His son, Jerry Siegel, later becomes famous for creating the character of Superman.

Nineteen years ago, Cal Harper lost both his parents; his mother’s death during a domestic argument put his father in prison. Cal now works with Florida’s homeless. On patrol one night, he and his partner rescue a shooting victim who turns out to be Cal’s father; the bullet matches the one that killed Jerry Siegel. This is the first of a twisting trail of clues that leads beyond Siegel’s murder, back to the mysterious Book of Lies associated with Cain’s ultimate fate. Cal and his father become prime suspects in a chain of crimes and to save themselves, must race to recover the ancient book.

With a plot built on Biblical references, code breaking and a secret society, parallels can easily be made to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, but settings and circumstances give this novel an American rather than European flavor. There are touching moments shared by the main characters, but the rift between the estranged son and father brings overtones of the “National Treasure” films rather than any deep philosophical revelations. Mix in a large dose of Superman lore, the inevitable psycho-villain, and for healthy measure, Nazis lurking in the shadows. The Book of Lies adds up to an enjoyable adventure of the improbable, not unlike a good comic book or summer movie.

The Book of Lies Companion Soundtrack strengthens the idea that this would make an entertaining film. The two disc album, available from Victor Records, contains a mix of classical music and contemporary tracks that can be listened to as mood music for the book. Meltzer’s website,, gives more background on this idea and specific notes on where each piece of classical music fits with the story. There is even an original song written for the book by Robert Ellis Orrall. Listening to the song “The Book of Lies” is a good way to start of the reading experience, but readers would do well to save the contemporary tunes for afterwards. While it’s nice to have songs tied to the Superman theme—like REM’s “Superman” and Five For Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”—gathered on one CD, they have little to do with Meltzer’s story and are  catchy enough to become a big distraction.

There is also a “movie trailer” which features performances from Joss Whedon, Christopher Hitchens (author of “God it Not Great”), Brian K. Vaughn (author of “The Last Man” and “Lost”), Damon Lindelof (co-create of “Lost”), A. J. Jacobs (author, “The Year of Living Biblically”). This short pseudo-documentary can be viewed on Meltzer’s website. And serves as a great teaser to the book.

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