For two years, a slight, balding man in Miami has hunched over his desk, making dozens of calls a day peppered with phrases custom-built to perk up Secret Service ears: "assassination," "president," "John Wilkes Booth." This week, just as Obama is sworn in for his second term, the man's fiendish plans are finally coming to fruition.
Whoa, whoa. Call off the FBI raid. It's only best-selling author and TV host Brad Meltzer with a new thriller about a killer imitating all four successful presidential slayers. If releasing the book this exact week may not be in the best taste, well, Meltzer didn't exactly plan it that way.
"I wish I were that smart," he says. "I'm just glad the National Security Agency can now see that I was talking all along about a fictional assassination."
Meltzer may not be a household name in the Magic City, but there's no question he's among the most successful scribes in the 305.
Born in New York, he moved to Dade as a teen and graduated from North Miami Beach High before going on to the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School. Since moving back to Dade with his wife — whose father, incidentally, owns historic Liberty City soul-food joint Jumbo's — he's written a dozen novels and nonfiction books. In December 2010, he started a gig hosting Discovery Channel's Brad Meltzer's Decoded, where he explores historic conspiracy theories.
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That doesn't mean Meltzer is wearing a tin foil hat himself. "I love a good conspiracy," he says. "But the reason Decoded has worked is because sometimes we find a conspiracy and sometimes we don't. If you come out every week and shout that the government is going to eat your babies, people should tune you out."
His novels, meanwhile, mine the same historical mysteries he delves into on television. His latest, The Fifth Assassin, follows archivist Beecher White as he races to track down a killer imitating Booth, Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, and Lee Harvey Oswald. Meltzer was fascinated by the links among the men and our tendency to mythologize such awful people.
"Booth is this horrible murdering racist, and yet he's become sort of a folk hero," he says. "They all have their own wild kind of insanity going on."