If you just want to learn more about the book and where it came from, keep reading…
For those who watch Decoded, 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 bullet that killed him, and even the bones of John Wilkes Booth, if you want to see them.
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.
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.
I wish. No, finding the historical artifacts that led to the death of one of our greatest Presidents is a 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 a hundred years, the four assassins, from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, 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.
I had no idea that I’d be holding onto the bones of John Wilkes Booth or the brain or one of the other Presidential assassins. But when someone shares a brain with you, you start paying attention. Needless to say, sometimes you plot the book, but sometimes, the book takes you for the ride.
We forget just how many things are in front of us every day, but we don’t know where they came from. In the case of playing cards, we see hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. But those symbols were picked for a reason: Hearts were the sign of the church; diamonds were arrowheads, representing vassals and archers; clubs were husbandmen or farmers; and spades were the points of lances and therefore represented the knights, and by extension, the King. They represented the four facets of society. But that’s what I love most about history: when you see where our reality really comes from. Or at least where the rumors come from.
Readers will think I made this plot up. I didn’t. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the FBI building, he was actually wearing a t-shirt that said Sic Semper Tyrannis. And back in 1994, a man named Francisco Martin Duran tried to kill President Bill Clinton by firing twenty-nine shots at the White House. But on his drive from Colorado to Washington, did you know he stopped in Dallas, Texas, passing the Book Depository…and that when he got to DC, he even stayed at the Hilton Hotel where John Hinckley shot Reagan? These assassins have never been forgotten.
In the course of the past four years, I buried both of my parents: my mom died of breast cancer, then my father died suddenly last year. To be clear, my parents came from nothing and gave me everything, making me the first in my immediate family to attend college. Needless to say, as I wrote The Fifth Assassin, I wasn’t at all surprised to see that it was about…growing up. Burying them, I had no choice but to write about growing up. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s where the book decided I needed to go. I owe them way more than that.
Read more Q&A with Brad here.