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A Secret About a Secret

Best Seller
A Secret About a Secret by Peter Spiegelman
Hardcover $28.00
Jun 07, 2022 | ISBN 9780307961297

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  • Jun 07, 2022 | ISBN 9780307961297

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Praise

“Peter Spiegelman has always been about intricate plotting and his latest … is no different. Only this time, he’s added another level.”
Northwest Indiana Times

“Spiegelman is a top-notch storyteller, and his latest will appeal equally to those who enjoy mainstream procedurals and to genre-blending readers who relish crime novels set in the future.”
Booklist

“In his astonishing new novel, set in an ambiguous future, Peter Spiegelman unpacks a murder at an elite research facility with an ominous history, navigating an elusive frontier of scientific innovation where intellectual property is its most coveted currency. Cyber thievery, lust, corporate espionage, and a host of deleterious secrets comprise the chords of this sweeping, riveting symphony.  A bold and original thriller by a masterful storyteller. 
—Elizabeth Brundage, author of The Vanishing Point

“In A Secret About a Secret, Peter Spiegelman has written a cool, stylish, state-of-the-art thriller that suits our moment perfectly. Fans of Scandinavian crime shows and well-crafted American mystery fiction will come away more than satisfied. Highly recommended.”
—Peter Blauner, Edgar Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of The Intruder and Sunrise Highway
 
“Peter Spiegelman has an extraordinary ability to conjure vivid characters and places with a few perfectly-chosen words. In A Secret About a Secret, he puts that skill to the service of creating a world that is not quite ours (not yet anyway). I couldn’t put this book down and was rooting for Myles, its narrator, even while I was a tiny bit horrified at his role in a world that itself is more than a tiny bit horrifying.”
—SJ Rozan, bestselling author of Family Business

Author Q&A

Q: Was there a particular event or idea that was the genesis of A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET?

A: It started with the pandemic and a poem.

When the pandemic began in March of 2020 it upended everything. Like a lot of people then, I had no idea what was coming, but it was clear that it would be big and that it would be with us for a while (little did I know!). The ambient anxiety—about the health and safety of loved ones, about the uncertain future of a country and a world that seemed to have shifted gears from the usual slow-motion car-wreck to something faster and more determined—was hard to escape.

Well down the list of COVID disruptions was a book I was writing at the time but couldn’t finish (more on that below). And so—without a project to work on, and with anxiety wrapped around me like the world’s worst blanket—I turned where I often do when things are unsettled: to poetry. It’s where I started as a writer, and where I go when I need to recharge my writing batteries. On March 23, 2020, I wrote:

The road was long and secret:

a tunnel of trees that leaned overhead, joined fingers,
wept like mourners in the wind.
It ran under iron skies, past fallow fields
and the stones of ragged walls.
It ran past a farmhouse, dark and empty
and through a stone village with few lit windows and no signs that named it. It ran on then toward the coast, and even in the hermetic card
I smelled salt and rotting seaweed.


I played around with those lines for a day or so, thinking for a while that they might be the start of a prose poem, but by the next day, I knew they were the start of a story. By the day after that, I knew they were the start of a novel and I’d written the first chapter. A year later, I finished the book.


Q: This novel is set in no specific place at no specific time. Sometimes it seems in the present, and sometimes a sort of dystopian near future. Why did you decide on this ambiguity of time and place?

A: One of the countless things the pandemic derailed was the sequel to my last novel, DR. KNOX. That story was set in the very real world of downtown Los Angeles and had as a protagonist a doctor who ran a street clinic there. By March of 2020, it was clear to me that the pandemic would upend the world of that story in ways I couldn’t begin to predict, and that would take months even to take shape. Which left me kind of stuck in that book—unable to go on because its setting longer existed.

I received suggestions that I should just pretend the pandemic wasn’t happening and keep on writing as if Knox’s world were unchanged, but to me that seemed like writing about a parallel universe—science fiction. Which, after I thought about it awhile, began to seem like an interesting idea—a way to escape the uncertainties of the pandemic, in both plot and personal terms. But an imagined parallel Los Angeles seemed somehow too small. If I was going to create an alternate world, why not go big?

When I wrote the first lines, and then the first chapter of what became A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET, they suggested a world that wasn’t quite our own—a place without our pandemic, without our geography, national boundaries, politics or history, and with a decidedly gothic vibe. Fifteen degrees off of our world, my editor called it. Building an alternate world was a challenge, but it was also a liberating experience that changed my thinking about setting in a novel. And the opportunity to inhabit another reality every time I sat down to work was, given our actual world, both a relief and a tremendous luxury.


Q: Why did you decide on a former boarding school repurposed into a secret research facility as your setting?

A: I went to boarding schools from seventh grade through the end of high school, and as a result I find few places creepier. Not that all the schools I went to were creepy. One was, one was decidedly not (in fact, it was great), and one was more or less a violent hellscape. But, because they were all institutions, they had in common a fixation with their own mythologized pasts, histories that were at once quite present and palpable—in the very bones of those places—and at the same time quite mysterious-seeming (at least to my young self). These institutions were much on my mind when I imagined Ondstrand House and its incarnations.


Q: How exactly would you describe Standard Division and the job Myles does for them?

A: In the nameless land of A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET, the security state looms large, and the dull-sounding Division of Security Standards—otherwise known as Standard Division—is the most powerful and feared element of a vast apparatus. It has the widest of mandates, including intelligence, counterintelligence, domestic security, and special operations—a hybrid of the CIA, the FBI, and the old OSS, with maybe a bit of NSA thrown in. But unlike those agencies (we hope!), Standard Division operates with little accountability or oversight—as a law unto itself. Myles is an experienced Standard Division field agent—the sharp end of a formidable spear, selected and trained from a young age for dangerous work. Field agents are known for chilly efficiency (described as “half management consultant, half assassin,” and “warrior-monks of the security state”) and operate with broad latitude in fulfilling their missions.


When we first meet him, though, Myles himself is not entirely clear on why he has been dispatched to Ondstrand House.

“[T]o examine, to investigate, to discover, to take a confession, to punish or simply to bear witness? I was authorized to do all of these, though I wondered lately about my qualifications for any of them. If nostalgia was called for perhaps, or distraction, equivocation, worry, longing or bone weariness, then I might be useful. But in all these years, my masters had never sought such things from me, and I didn’t think this Saturday in March would be the first time.”

Investigator, enforcer, good soldier, weary doubter—Myles is something of a hybrid himself.


Q: What drew you to the idea of genetic engineering and cyber theft? Do you think about how crimes of the future may increasingly permeate such fields?

A: In my career before writing, I worked in financial technology, and I remain a science and technology geek— endlessly fascinated by the intersection of tech and society, and with how reliably we apply our immense engi- neering cleverness to the service of some of our worst impulses. As night follows day, once we have a new technology, we will invent ways to weaponize it or, at a minimum, build some engaging shell games around it. I suppose it’s comforting to know we can always count on some things.


Q: Did you do any specific research for this novel?

A: Living through a pandemic has made us all amateur virologists, I suppose, but I did do some specific research into firms (and there are a number of them) like my fictional Ondstrand Biologic, that design and develop genetic therapies and related infrastructure, and into some of the tools they use. Another strand of background research included a deep dive into the story of Theranos and of its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. It’s a sad, crazy saga, and there are some excellent books and podcasts on the topic, including the wonderful reporting of John Carreyrou for The Wall Street Journal and his book Bad Blood. (Truth be told, I was following this story before I started writing A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET—between the tech, the finance, the fraud and the driven, charismatic, self-invented figure at the center of it all—it was solidly in my wheelhouse.)


Q: While it’s set in the very modern headquarters of a biotech company, this novel also harkens back to the wonderful locked room mysteries of Agatha Christie. Are these an interest of yours?

A: I do enjoy locked-room puzzles (and Christie too), but I’m an even bigger fan of country house mysteries—in which murder occurs in an isolated setting (the country house), and a mysterious stranger (the investigator) arrives to set things right. Christie wrote these too, but for me the master of the subgenre is P.D. James. I love her Adam Dalgliesh books, the settings she establishes (the remote locales, the hermetic institutional communities, the secret histories, an array of fraught relationships), and the way her investigator falls, like a stone in a pond, into the midst of it all. Those books are high on my list of comfort reading, and I tried to channel something of that vibe in A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET.


Q: What is next for you? Will we see more of Myles?

A: Right now I’m in the midst of writing the next Myles novel, so we will definitely see more of him!

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