Editor’s note: Best-selling author—and good friend of TheBlaze—Brad Meltzer is coming out with a new thriller this month, “The Fifth Assassin” — available at BlazeBooks on Jan. 15 and Amazon and many other booksellers. The book, which is about a serial killer who’s imitating the four men who assassinated U.S. presidents, contains fascinating “inside history” nuggets sure to entertain readers. Brad graciously offered to be part of an exclusive Q&A for TheBlaze Magazine subscribers.
Here’s a bit of our interview with Brad, titled “Secret Access to History.” Get the whole thing only in the newest issue of TheBlaze Magazine.
THEBLAZE MAGAZINE: Your new book is about a serial killer who’s meticulously recreating the crimes of the four assassins, from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, who have successfully killed the president of the United States. So let’s just ask: Where does an idea like that come from?
BRAD MELTZER: For those who watch “Decoded” [on the History channel] or read my novels, I hope it’s clear that I love doing research. So I always start with the real history. In this case, it began with a government employee who told me that I needed to come to a secret museum that almost no one knew about. Naturally, I was suspicious, so I asked him what they had at this so-called museum. Then he told me: “We have pieces of Abraham Lincoln’s skull, the bones of John Wilkes Booth and even the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln if you want to see them.”
BLAZE: So did you see them?
MELTZER: Of course I saw them! The guy offered to show me the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln! I got there as quick as I could. And once there, they let me hold the bones of John Wilkes Booth … and the bones of President Garfield … and even the brain of his killer, which yes, they had in a jar.
BLAZE: And this is real? This isn’t anything you made up?
MELTZER: It’s real. I held these items in my hand. The museum is run by the Army—it used to be the Army Medical Museum—and was dedicated to studying the effects of war on the human body. Back in the late 1800s, modern medicine didn’t exist. So if you got shot in the arm, the Army would cut open your arm and look inside, trying to figure out what killed you. Today, we know it usually isn’t the bullet. It’s an infection.
So once germ theory was developed, they became the official museum to document the history of medicine, and since they had all the human body parts, they got the pieces of Abraham Lincoln after he was killed. And the shirt with his blood on it. And the bullet. The government has all of it.
BLAZE: And this isn’t the first time the U.S. government has come to you, right? A few years back, Homeland Security asked you to brainstorm different ways terrorists could attack the country. You’ve researched your books with former Presidents Bush and Clinton. Is this just a typical day for you?
MELTZER: I wish. No, holding the historical artifacts that led to the death of one of our greatest presidents is definitely one of those moments where you stop and wonder what message the universe is sending you. But as I started looking at the items, I could feel my brain working out the plot of the thriller. What if, over the course of 100 years, the four assassins were secretly working together? What was their purpose? Who do they really work for? And why are they planning to kill the president today? Then I had the book.
BLAZE: Did you find evidence of any real connections among the four successful presidential assassins?
MELTZER: Of the four men that succeeded, here’s what they had in common: Most of them …