The construct at the core of Brad Meltzer’s latest thriller sizzles with dramatic promise: Since the days of George Washington, the US President has been protected by a stealthy band of spies called the Culper Ring, who communicate by scrawling vital messages in invisible ink between the lines of great books at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. With such a kernel from which to hatch a plot—Dan Brown, take note—you could be forgiven for expecting, even anticipating, a history-trotting yarn (what role did the Culper Ring play in the Civil War?) to unfold in the 464 pages of The Inner Circle. Instead, Meltzer sets off a war between the Culper Ring and the commander-in-chief himself, a jovial Midwesterner named Orson Wallace who courts a competing ring made up of childhood friends to safeguard a secret involving his disabled sister and a mysterious patient at St. Elizabeths hospital. Unbelievable? Absolutely. But my, how the pages turn—which is another way of saying Meltzer probably has another blockbuster on his hands.