A Man of Mystery

Decoding Brad Meltzer — whose "Brad Meltzer's Decoded" invokes history mysteries and cipher-meisters, beginning a 10-part series on Dec. 2 on the History Channel — requires no central intelligence agenda.

Channeling history? Sure, the Brooklyn-born, Florida-raised writer who hails from Columbia University Law School, has added brilliant sparkles of wit and wisdom to the best-seller list by paging history through the ages and eons, along with sheer-delight short stories long on texture and tam.

But can Meltzer melt down the maze that has Jews worldwide puzzling this time of year: Just how did Judah Maccabee get eight days of candles out of a thimble of fuel?

Oil of oy veys! "If I did that, solve that, my kids would hate me," reasons Meltzer of being menorah destroyer.

After all, "that would mean ruining eight days of toys."

Master of his domain — unlike Seinfeld, Meltzer can go the distance, albeit in a decidedly different realm — Meltzer doesn't toy with readers or fans. The man who has written such top sellers as The Tenth Justice and Dead Even evens the score when it comes to good and evil.

And whether it's The Book of Fate or The Book of Lies lies an author who's linked to the fantastic and fancifying, with fans in the millions for a writer who has a way with worlds and words that wither and provide wonder at the same time.

He gets by with a little help from his friends; no enemies lists here. Given a wide berth by the White House, Meltzer has been abetted by such super sleuths none other than the potentates of POTUS (decoded as President of the United States). Meltzer has actually been helped in his by-the-book research by Presidents George Bush (No. 41) and Bill Clinton, the latter giving a major presidential seal of approval — and thumbs up — by calling Meltzer one of his favorite writers.

Feel the paean? The writer is grateful for it. But it's no wonder — Bush and Clinton are familiar with his other writings as well; Meltzer penned the oath taken by those entering AmeriCorps, a service organization whose swearing in-ceremony had been administered by the two presidents.

And if Meltzer has a certain sense of Social Security — maybe it's because he's helped out with the military kind, too. He was invited by the Department of Homeland Security to attend a brainstorming session, all a think tank armored with the CIA, FBI and intellectuals on how to combat terrorism.

"It was one of the greatest honors I ever had, trying to help my government that way," says the man of mystery, who can tap into the wiretap minds of villains and vixens seemingly at will for his novel approach to literature.

But it was baseball and the way it bonded him to his boy, Jason, that may have hit the biggest of home runs; it certainly hit home. In his acclaimed and heartwarming Heroes for My Son , Meltzer's mindmeld and heartfelt effort at bringing his boy into a world where purpose is the purr of life's meaning, he wrote about such selfless international icons as Miep Gies, who helped keep Anne Frank out of harm's way during World War II.

But it was his inclusion of icon Roberto Clemente, the baseball star who bagged safety concerns to reach out and aid Nicaraguan refugees from a devastating earthquake, only to die in a plane crash on his way to help, that may have taught the most about thinking outside the cage.

Certainly, Meltzer unwittingly broke his son's heart when he told him about the plane crash. "And that was the worst part," he writes. "It wasn't just that I broke his heart, it's that I had to break his heart.

"Every father does. Eventually. Whether we want to or not. To teach heroism, you have to teach loss."

Lost to the world with sadness, Jason returned wiser and wealthier in the perspective of life's meaning, admitting his admiration for the cleat-clad Clemente, who traded baseball spikes for an humanitarian attempt to spear some hope for the downtrodden.

Child as father to the man?

"I love when I teach my son a good lesson," writes Meltzer. "But I love it even more when he teaches me."

What Meltzer is teaching harks back to his love of eras gone by. Indeed, the writer has a history with … history … and his current 10-part TV project — aided by a trio of onscreen investigators that makes it all a chamber quartet of queries — focuses on conundrums that are the constant of the record books.

Just where is the cornerstone of the White House, lost for two centuries, being hidden? And what are the oblique messages in the Statue of Liberty — a monumental figure that David Copperfield may have made disappear for a night, but whose sleight-of-hand had no hand in elucidating the mysterious messages called up by Meltzer and minions.

Meltzer as muse of mystery, however, is easy to read — and it's not just The New York Times best-seller list that says so. Page through his accomplishments and see the immense imprint of one major figure: "Everything in life comes back to one person," says the writer with pride and love. "My mother."

Who need public relations when his late mom lassoed the public with her apron strings into reading her beloved son's books?

Going for broke in Boca Raton? "She worked the Jewish" organization market, he says of her helping be his best advance woman down Florida way.

And one who helped him see the future. "When my publisher shut down operations right after my second book had come out, I thought my career was destroyed," he recalls.

Can the gloom and doom, said his understanding mother: "I'd love you if you were a garbage man," she said in support. (Nothing against garbage men, says Meltzer; there are a number of them in his family.)

And when USA Today rubbished his 2001 novel The First Counsel as less than first-rate, with the headline "Make 'First' Your Last," her advice?

"Don't worry; nobody reads that paper anyway," she said, schlumping off the newspaper with the nation's highest circulation.

Giving It the Taste Test
She also was a decorator with a Jewish sense of decorum. "Once when I took her to the White House, she looked around" at the way a room was furbished, and said, "It's ungaposht!"

Her son was "Sesame Street" through Elmo's worldy vision. "If one day I would have come home on fire, she would have said, 'Nice flame!'

"She gave me the good stuff."

And Dad the comic capability and appreciation; indeed, Meltzer's bio could as well be exhaled in exclamation marks, marked with bold striking colors — highlighting his background as acclaimed comic-book author/auteur of such graphic greats as Green Arrow, Justice League of America and Identity Crisis.

Identity crisis? Not this writer, whose love of family forges his strongest identity as father and husband.

"My wife," he says of his high-school sweetheart, "and my mother couldn't have been more different, but were alike in one way: Both are strong women — and I love strong women," he says of those who support and work with him, including his agent and publisher.

They are all part of Meltzer's inner circle — also the name of his latest novel, coming out next month — rounding out a career without borders or limits — or hemmed in by medium; his work for TV included the well-received if short-lived series, "Jack & Bobby."

Brad Meltzer decoded? It may be "Scene's" imagination, but isn't the crackerjack writer wearing a secret decoder ring scooped out of a box of Cracker Jack?

Or has he been reading just one too many of Meltzer's mind-grabbing novels, where imagination and imagery seem to turn the pages mysteriously on their own?


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