When Michael Crichton published "The Lost World" a few years ago, I felt like I was reading the screenplay for the upcoming "Jurassic Park" sequel rather than an actual novel. A similar thing happened reading Brad Meltzer’s latest novel "The Inner Circle."
The story itself is a popcorn thriller of a book. The story opens with archivist Benjamin January preparing for a meeting with his old high school crush, Clementine. She’s contacted him again via Facebook and needs his help with tracking down the identity of her father. Scarred from the death of his fiancee several years before, Ben can’t help but wonder how much of a reconnection there could be with his long-lost crush.
Clementine’s visit to the National Archives coincides with the day that the President is going to drop by to look at some documents, in a room that insures privacy. Ben decides to show off the room to Clementine and thanks to a spilled cup of coffee, they quickly become caught up in a far-reaching historical intrigue that reaches back to the days when George Washington was governing the United States.
From there, deaths begin to occur around Ben as he realizes he’s stumbled across something greater.
If you’re willing to accept this story as a mindless Hollywood action thriller in print form, you’re likely to enjoy it a lot more than I did. Not taking too long out to question things that are developing and how and why they’re developing will help as well. At times, "The Inner Circle" feels a bit like its trying to be another entry in Dan Brown’s "The DaVinci Code" series. As I said before, the novel feels like it’s just crying out to become a movie or a screenplay–and it could work as a mindless, fun action thriller.
But there are points when the story tries and wants to be more and comes up frustratingly short. Character motivations change from chapter to chapter and while Ben and Clementine are given some backstory, every other character feels two-dimensional. Meltzer falls into the trap of springing flashbacks into the story at points when he needs to introduce a piece of Ben and Clementine’s past to the readers but couldn’t quite dream up a way to do it within the story itself.
<spoiler>And the story ends at a point that we could possibly have a follow-up book or series of stories. At this point, I’m not sure I enjoyed this one enough to want to continue reading more.</spoiler>
Overall, a fairly uneven reading experience. But if you’re looking for a good, popcorn novel (mayhaps to read on while on a plane or traveling), this one might fit the bill.