Brad Meltzer Modernizes George Washington's Spy Ring in The President's Shadow

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We’re giving away Brad Meltzer’s Culper Ring Series here!

At the height of the Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered the creation of a spy ring tasked with uncovering British military strategies. Called the “Culper Ring,” the small band of spies is credited with identifying Major General Benedict Arnold as a traitor to the colonial forces.

The Culper Ring supposedly disbanded in 1783, but author Brad Meltzer imagines that the Ring thrived for over 200 years in his bestselling Culper Ring Series. Beginning with The Inner Circle and continuing with The Fifth Assassin, Meltzer’s novels follow National Archives staffer Beecher White, who joins the mysterious organization that protects the Presidency.

The President’s Shadow, the third title in the series, hits shelves today. So Paste caught up with Meltzer to chat about creating the series and joking with former President H.W. Bush.


Paste: What sparked your imagination to begin writing The Culper Ring Series?

Brad Meltzer: A few years back, I got a call from Homeland Security asking me if I’d come in and brainstorm different ways for terrorists to attack the U.S. My first thought was, “If they’re calling me, we’ve got bigger problems than anyone thinks.” But they’d seen the research in my books. And they know I have good sources, so they invited me in. I was honored to be a part of the Red Cell program. But what I was struck most by is: Why me? And I traced it back to George Washington himself, who devised a secret group that would serve just the President. They weren’t military men. They were regular citizens—just like us. Washington called them The Culper Ring. Eventually, I said to my friend in Homeland Security, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we found out that George Washington’s spy ring still existed?” And he said, “What makes you think it doesn’t?” That’s when I know I had the plot for the book.

Paste: In the “Acknowledgements” you thank former President H.W. Bush for aiding in your research of this novel. What’s the best story he’s ever told you?

Meltzer: He once told my wife that he invented the phrase “You da man.” He spent 10 minutes trying to convince her. That’s a quality A-plus joke. And she totally believed it.

Paste: What was the most challenging scene to write in The President’s Shadow?

Meltzer: The final scenes at the secret island that where they hid the killers of Abraham Lincoln. I just loved the place. It was seeping with creepiness and was a true island of transformation. It took a long time to open the mental window to get there.

Paste: What can readers expect next from Beecher’s adventures?

Meltzer: In the words of someone who hates spoiling anything, you’ll see.

Paste: And now for a fun one: If you could travel to any time in history, when and where would you go?

Meltzer: To meet Abraham Lincoln. Or to the future—just to see if they have lightsabers.