Spencer Finch is an investigative journalist who is researching billionaire J. Nathan Pierce for one of his stories. In the course of his research, he discovers that a mysterious book was recently stolen from Pierce, and it’s this book that will lead Finch on a fascinating and unlikely journey with far-reaching implications. Early on in the story, Finch also receives his recently deceased grandfather’s inheritance: a box full of stories and other texts. These gradually add a whole new dimension to both his grandfather’s legacy and the secret, real history of the world…
If all of this sounds confusing, rest assured: Chris Roberson is a great storyteller who expertly reveals the layers of his tale as Finch slowly discovers the real reason for his story assignment. Finch is an interesting main character: a hard-drinking, chain-smoking investigator with a shady past and a chip on his shoulder. As the reader learns more about his past, it becomes increasingly clear that Book of Secrets is as much about Finch coming to terms with himself as about the mystery and arcana of the main plot. Along the way, the reader is also introduced to a number of colorful and often fascinating side characters — my favorite being the ex-convict bartender and enthusiastic preacher of the Gospel of Odin.
Book of Secrets has an interesting structure: the story is divided into seven chapters, each covering one day of Finch’s investigation. At the end of each day, when Finch is too wired to sleep, he reads one of the texts he received in his grandfather’s inheritance, and these texts are inserted into the novel after every chapter but the last one. The texts are offered in reverse chronological order, and while the first one (a pulp story about the exploits of a caped crusader called “the Black Hand”) may make you think that this feature is just a gimmick, by the second or third one you’ll start noticing some genuinely interesting patterns and parallels. Once those became clear, I could not put this book down and raced through it in record time.
Unfortunately, after almost 250 pages of simply excellent storytelling, Book of Secrets takes a sudden turn for the worse. One scene (the auction) is so over-the-top that it just doesn’t mesh with the rest of the book, and the new characters it introduces are too stereotypical. After this, the novel works its way to a deus ex machina ending that frankly felt like a huge letdown after the slow build-up of tension throughout the novel.
Still, Book of Secrets is an incredibly entertaining and rewarding read for most of the way. Chris Roberson doesn’t spell everything out for the reader, instead leaving some hints and references that, if you catch them, will have your head spinning. If you have any interest in secret history/conspiracy stories, definitely check out Book of Secrets.