Wed
Jun 1 2016 9:00am

The House of Secrets: New Excerpt

Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg

The House of Secrets by Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg follows Hazel Nash, who wakes up in a hospital with amnesia and sets out to put the pieces back together and solve the mystery of her past, as well as one involving her dead father and a corpse with a leather book hidden in his chest.

Read this exclusive excerpt from The House of Secrets by Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg, and then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of this mesmerizing mystery!

When Hazel Nash was six years old, her father taught her: mysteries need to be solved. He should know. Hazel's father is Jack Nash, the host of America's favorite conspiracy TV show, The House of Secrets.

Even as a child, she loved hearing her dad's tall tales, especially the one about a leather book belonging to Benedict Arnold that was hidden in a corpse.

Now, years later, Hazel wakes up in the hospital and remembers nothing, not even her own name. She's told she's been in a car accident that killed her father and injured her brother. But she can't remember any of it, because of her own traumatic brain injury. Then a man from the FBI shows up, asking questions about her dad—and about his connection to the corpse of a man found with an object stuffed into his chest: a priceless book that belonged to Benedict Arnold.

Back at her house, Hazel finds guns that she doesn't remember owning. On her forehead, she sees scars from fights she can't recall. Most important, the more Hazel digs, the less she likes the person she seems to have been.

Trying to put together the puzzle pieces of her past and present, Hazel Nash needs to figure out who killed this man—and how the book wound up in his chest. The answer will tell her the truth about her father, what he was really doing for the government—and who Hazel really is. Mysteries need to be solved. Especially the ones about yourself.

1

Summer, Utah

Now

Let’s see what this old bruiser can do,” Jack Nash says. He’s behind the wheel of his ’77 sky blue Cadillac Eldorado with a trunk big enough to lie down in, and he’s hurtling down Highway 163 through the Utah desert. It’s not even 10 a.m. and Hazel’s sitting next to him, Skip’s in the backseat. There’s a lifetime of polish and pain between them all. But isn’t that how it always is? He presses the gas and the Caddy thunders forward.

“Maybe take it down a notch, Dad?” Skip says. Jack catches a glimpse of his son in the rearview mirror. He’s looking a little peaked. Thirty-nine years old and he still gets carsick. “You get a ticket at your age,” Skip adds, “you’re liable to lose your license.”

Your age. How old does Jack feel? In his mind, he’s still in his thirties—sometimes he feels like he’s a teenager even—but Jack knows his brain is a liar. His body has been telling him the truth for some time now. No one ever says seventy is the new forty. Seventy . . . that’s the line where if you die, people don’t get to say it was a tragedy.

“Just keep an eye out for cops,” Jack says.

Hazel rolls her eyes, rubbing absently at a small knot on her forehead, a bruise just below her hairline. A wound from a fight she’ll never talk about.

“The speedometer only goes to eighty-five?” Hazel asks.

Jack rolls his eyes, knowing all too well how easily his daughter finds trouble. But that was the nice thing about these old cars built to go fifty-five. Eighty-five seemed extravagant. Cars these days went to 140, 160, sometimes 170. Or their speedometers did, anyway. A false sense of a new horizon, that’s what that was.

This stretch of the 163 is one of Jack’s favorite swaths of land. It’s all red today, from red sand to red glare, everything the color of dried blood. It’s the beauty and grace of the natural world: The massive sandstone spires are the result of millions of years of erosion and pressure, alongside the forbidding truth of the desert, which is that you’re always one wrong move from something that could kill you.

A rattlesnake.

A scorpion.

Even the very air itself, which could end you with heat or cold, it didn’t discriminate. Out here, dying from exposure was just dying.

Beautiful. Made you feel alive.

The first time Jack and his kids were here was decades ago. Same car. Back then, Claire was up front next to him, both of the kids in the back, the tape player screaming out the Rolling Stones, Jack’s favorite band. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was his song, of course.

Skip was a teenager and in the midst of another season of The House of Secrets alongside his famous father. From the start, everyone knew it was a ratings ploy, like introducing a new baby on a sitcom, and like the worst of those, they started calling Skip “Scrappy” from Scooby-Doo. Still, it put his face on posters in Tiger Beat. A mistake? Probably. No, surely. But Skip loved it. Hazel was just a kid, but ready for the world . . . just a world different from the one Skip was living in.

They’d driven from Los Angeles to Zion to Bryce to Moab, Claire’s hand on Jack’s thigh, tapping out the beat. If he concentrates, he can still feel it there, bump-bump-uh-dun-uh-duh-dunuh- duh, But it’s allll right now . . .

Jack eases off the accelerator. “We need to talk,” he says, “about the future.”

* * *

Jack Nash has three rules. He came up with them when he started in TV news, before he got into the mystery business. He’d read a bunch of autobiographies and found that every successful person had some sort of code.

The first was that there was a rub in every deal—a snag or a drawback; there was always a catch. Once you understood that, there were no bad deals.

The second was that nothing goes missing. Everything is somewhere.

This was actually a rule of Claire’s, from when the kids were still young. Whenever they said they’d lost something—a toy, the dog, their favorite shirt—she very calmly explained to them that just because something was gone didn’t mean it’d ceased to exist. But then Claire got sick, and he couldn’t help but wonder if that rule needed some amending, because while she was still there, she began to disappear a bit every day. First it was her hair. Then her teeth. And then one morning, he woke up and she was gone entirely.

For a while he still felt her presence in the house, like she was just in the other room, or out in the yard, and he’d absently call out to her, habit somehow getting in the way of grief. Eventually, that feeling went away and now Jack only feels her in the place between sleep and waking, can almost feel her sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him.

Claire’s been gone ten years now. How Jack wishes she were here. She’s somewhere. Jack knows this. He found her in the first place, he’ll find her again. He thinks maybe he’s closer to her now than ever, particularly with how every day he feels a little shorter of breath, how there are days when he can’t feel his fingertips. His doctor told him it was a blood flow problem.

He needed to take his meds.

Eat right.

Get exercise.

Slow down. He got a second opinion, a third; they all told him the same thing. Can’t feel your fingertips? Take a nitro. The nitro doesn’t work, call 911. Can’t get to a phone? Get right with your soul.

He was trying by practicing his third rule: Honor the people who love you.

Jack realized early on that rules one and three didn’t quite work together. Sometimes the rub is that the people who love you wouldn’t recognize your logic, not when it comes to matters of business. So maybe they aren’t rules, Jack considers today, all these years later. Maybe they are truths.

And the thing about truth, well, it doesn’t always need to be fact based.

Indeed, when Jack picked his son up in Las Vegas, where Skip had been signing autographs at a convention, and where he’d been living—“for tax purposes,” Skip told him—and when Hazel flew in from some anthropology conference, Jack wasn’t even sure if he could go through with his plan to lay it all out. It was an anniversary trip, he’d told them, for Claire, which got both of the kids to grudgingly agree to check out of their own lives for a week. But the fact was, he wanted to put a bow on another part of their lives too.

“I’m done,” Jack says. “I’m ending the TV show.”

“What? Why?” Skip asks.

“Time to live like a normal person.”

“Isn’t it a little late for that?” Hazel says.

Probably, Jack thinks. “Maybe I have fifteen years left,” he says. “I’d like to enjoy them.”

“Don’t say that,” Skip says. “Soon as you put a number on things, you start counting toward it. That’s bad juju.”

Now Jack was the one rolling his eyes. Skip. A childhood nickname that stuck. No man should enter his fifth decade still saddled with a nickname, Jack thinks, unless it’s something like Alexander the Great, except even Alexander the Great was dead at thirty-two. Skip’s real name was Nicholas, but it was Jack’s own father who’d crowned him years before. As in, Maybe it will skipa generation.

“You’re finally being smart. You should’ve done it years ago,” Hazel says. “You outlasted Jacques Cousteau. Go ahead—pull the plug and enjoy.”

Hazel. She’d taken after her mother in so many ways that it was often hard for Jack to be around her anymore. Her face, her voice, even her hand gestures, reminded him of Claire so much that it hurt to be near her. They also had the same temper—and the same reckless attraction to destruction.

How many times had Jack been woken by the police, Hazel in the back of a squad car? How many phone calls had he made, even in the last year, to keep charges from being filed against her for assault . . . or mayhem . . . or whatever charge the police wanted to hang on her? Jack tried to harness it—in his line of work, especially the parts of his life he hid from everyone else, fearlessness was what kept him alive. But then Claire saw what he was doing, and that was the end. I will not let you put her in that business. Over the years, Hazel had found her own business. She was a pilgrim, a professor, and never exactly risk-averse.

“But the fans . . .” Skip said.

Don’t,” Hazel warned, her temper already showing. “When was the last time the fans were ever happy?”

She was right about that too.

For the first few seasons, it was enough to find some old NASA employees who swore the moon landing was fake . . . or the woman who woke up one day and suddenly could speak Latin. All Jack had to do was nod and show that perfect amount of empathy. Just because something seemed implausible didn’t mean it wasn’t true.

But then people started to need more, something a bit less static. And that meant Jack had to go into the field, begin actually investigating the mysteries of the world, even solving them when he could. That was the thing about the mystery business: Every now and then, you had to unravel one, or else the viewers would begin to think everything was fake, or, alternatively, that the world really was a series of vast, unending conspiracies meant to keep them from knowing the truth.

That’s what it always boiled down to. People weren’t happy unless they believed at least part of the world was some grand hoax. It’s what had made Watergate so compelling. Everything everyone suspected was true: Government was corrupt, the world was being manipulated, nothing was on the level . . . and it took a couple of guys named Bob and Carl to figure it all out. But as Jack knew, most times, mysteries didn’t have satisfying endings. Like the death of JFK. No one wanted to believe Oswald acted alone, because then that story was done.

The world was so different now. Anyone could see anything. And the government? Between the robots, drones, and Navy SEALS, they had more people working for them than against them. Whatever Jack Nash could find hardly mattered. He was a cog. The machine was so big now, it could withstand a few loose screws.

“Can you even be happy?” Skip asks. “Away from it?”

As soon as he found the book. No, not just a book. A bible. The bible. It was so close to him now. If he closed his eyes, he could see it, right in front of him, there in the desert, swirling in the wind.

“That’s the last mystery,” Jack says, his words slurring.

“Dad, you all right?” Hazel asks quietly. She’s looking at him strangely, he thinks. Like she’s studying him, cataloguing him, breaking him into parts, like she does. She puts her hand on his elbow. “You look flushed.”

“Never better,” Jack says. Outside, the desert suddenly blooms white, the sand so luminous that it reminds Jack of the Sahara. “There’s something else I want to tell you.”

“We know, Dad,” Skip says. “Honor the people who love you. You’ve told us a million times.” 

“Your color isn’t good,” Hazel says. “Your face is red. Why don’t you pull over? Let me drive.”

“Everything is red here,” Jack says, but no, no, it’s white now. Everything awash in light. Is he on a beach? He thinks he might be. The salt on his lips. The waves in his ears. Yes. He’s not driving a car. He’s asleep on some further shore. Wasn’t he about to say something?

“Dad!” Hazel shouts, grabbing the wheel. “Dad, can you hear me!?”

He feels the waves settling in his chest, not a bad feeling, no. The light has turned from red to white to a brilliant yellow, the desert transforming right before his eyes. Do the kids see it? They must. They must see it.

He hopes they finally do.
 

Excerpted from the book THE HOUSE OF SECRETS by Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg. Copyright © 2016 by Forty-four Steps, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.


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Brad Meltzer is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Inner Circle, The Book of Fate, and seven other bestselling thrillers. In addition to his fiction, Brad is one of the only authors to ever have books on the bestseller list for nonfiction (History Decoded), advice (Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter), children's books (I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln) and even graphic books (Justice League of America). He is also the host of Brad Meltzer's Decoded on the History Channel, and Brad Meltzer's Lost History on H2. He currently lives in Florida. You can find much more about him at BradMeltzer.com. You can also see what he's doing right now at Facebook.com/BradMeltzer and on Twitter @bradmeltzer.

Tod Goldberg is the author of several novels, including Gangsterland, a finalist for the Hammett Prize; Living Dead Girl, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and the popular Burn Notice series. He lives in Southern California where he directs the Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts at UC Riverside. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @todgoldberg or visit him daily at Facebook.com/todgoldberg.

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59 comments
Debra Nicholson
3. Marshadee2001
A leather book IN his chest?
Gary Anderson
4. gwander
Okay, I am hooked. I hope I win a copy. If I don't, then I'll buy a copy.
Karen Terry
5. bblol65
I Love Brad Meltzer. He is one of my favorite authors and I know this a great book.
Peter W. Horton Jr.
6. mosaix
I love physical copies of books! Yes!
Sally Kohlenberg
7. SallyK
He's a wonderful writer & I enjoy his books
Margot Core
9. AnnaZed
I'm a complete sucker for an amnesia story, good times!
13. Windycindy
Hi, My husband would enjoy reading this book
very much! Just by reading the excerpt, I know it is favorite genre...
Many thanks, Cindi
14. Andrew eichner
Loved it
16. Knight99
i hope this is not another example of a big name author just cashing in by putting something out there for summer reading.
Vivian T.
17. Book Diva
Looks like a great read, will be adding this to my TBR list.
Todd Henson
18. thedelfrog
This title keeps surfacing in different places. It sounds really interesting.
Anna Mills
19. Anna Mills
I forgot that I was reading an excerpt...it is that good.
Barbara Bibel
25. bbibel
This sounds like a very interesting story.
Sally Schmidt
27. bigcootie
Another exciting one, thanks for the chance to win.
29. AmyH
Sounds very interesting!
Darlene Slocum
30. darandsam
I am very interested in reading this one.
Amy Hageman
31. AmyH
Commenting again - not sure I was logged in the first time.
Sharon Haas
32. kazul
Very intriguing! Thanks for the chance!
Joanne Mielczarski
33. jtmswim
I've heard so many good things about this book that I can't wait to read it.
34. SallyW
This has a intriguing start, hope to win a copy. Family mysteries are always interesting, with so many possibilities.
Sharon Shumway
37. Shellen
Just the way I like my books. Books that grab me on the first page. Now I have to read HOUSE OF SECRETS. The title intriqued me, but the first page hooked me.
Jackie Wisherd
39. JackieW
I have read all of Brad Meltzer's books and will read this one too. He is one of my favorite writers.
JAMES SEELNACHT
40. jseels
Another winner from Meltzer, Ican't wait to read it.
Janice Milliken
43. msjiva
Rare book buried in corpse's chest-I definitely need to know more!
Joy Isley
45. JOYE
I like Jack's rules. Now I will have to read the rest of the story to see if he breaks any of them
Mary Lauff-Thompson
46. mtl166
I always enjoy Brad Meltzer's books!
Mary
Kyle Johnson
48. kylecar94
Meltzer can craft a really intriguing story. Sounds good.
Janis Milford
49. calgaryjan
Sounds like a book that will keep me up all night! Perfect!
Rhonda Stefani
50. RStefani72
This one sounds fantastic! It's been on my TBR shelf since the 1st moment I saw it was coming. This one has everything and Brad Metzler?!! Yes, sign me up!
Melissa Keith
51. melly801
I can't wait to read this book! I've read so many good things about it in other newsletters. I even got a postcard. Yes. This appeals. You had me at "corpse with book in chest". Hee.
Jud Hanson
54. trekie70
I love Brad Meltzer and can hardly wait to read this.
Deb Philippon
55. DebP
Sounds like a good read. Count me in and wish me luck!
Wilifred Alire
57. walire
I've read many of Brad Meltzer's books, interested to see how the companion writer Tod Goldberg fares.
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