The Escape Artist, by Brad Meltzer

Eight stars

Brad Meltzer is back with another thriller to appease his adult fans. With a story that dazzles and characters whose lives enrich the storytelling, the wait for this gem seems justifiable. Jim “Zig” Zigarowski works as a civilian mortician at the Dover Air Force Base, having seen much during his long career. After a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, the bodies begin their return for final preparation before being released to the families. While one of the victims is the Librarian of Congress, a close friend of POTUS, Zig is most interested in Sergeant Nola Brown. Memories from his past flood back as Zig remembers Zola from an excursion with his now-deceased daughter. Nola was a very quiet girl with a troubled past, though Zig remembers her heroics above all else. Zig’s investigation and preparation of the body seems to raise some red flags and a rushed identification leaves him to wonder if someone is trying to participate in a cover-up back in Alaska. Add to that, a note in the body’s stomach and Zig is sure that Nola is not the one before him, but why?! When the body is intercepted at Dover and the actual Nora emerges, Zig realises that there is a significant mystery surrounding the plane crash and those on the passenger list, including three individuals whose names have ties to the famous Harry Houdini. With Zig and Nora working together, they discover that something called Operation: Bluebook, which could be the impetus for the crash. The original Bluebook refers to a plan hatched by Houdini when he travelled into towns with his own team in the audience, garnering information to be used on stage. Learning that both their lives remain in danger, Zig and Nora work to uncover what’s been going on before they suffer the same fate as the others. Tying the clues together and discovering the Houdini inference, Zig and Nora try to remain one step ahead of this US Government covert sleight of hand. Another well-crafted novel by Meltzer that is recommended to his fans and those who want a little magic with their reading experience.

I have long enjoyed Brad Meltzer and his writing style, though I did sigh and shook my head when he turned to writing more for children. However, looking back on it, the anticipation of his thriller novels builds and this one was worth the wait. I am eager to see what else he has in store for Zig in the coming years, should this novel receive the praise it is due. It would appear that the Zig character is the start to a new series, which has some real potential, mixing civilian and military aspects quite effectively and Meltzer’s attention to detail is a significant help. Meltzer does a wonderful job creating a thorough backstory for Zig, especially as it relates to his daughter and the tragedy that befell her. The reader can feel a strong connection, while also being at ease with Zig’s current position as a mortician. Nola Brown’s character receives significant backstory throughout this novel as well, usually in the form of flashback chapters, which flesh out some of the nuances in her personality and explain that sense of independence. Her development in a ‘foster home’ becomes a central thread, as does her development into the woman she began when Zig met her again. There is surely much to be said about Nola and her resilience. Secondary characters are peppered throughout, which provides the reader with a pathway for better understanding how the story will develop. Meltzer adds his own flavour to these folks, injecting historical aspects as well as his own unique characteristics. The story and its delivery are stellar and keep the reader connected throughout, weaving together a few storylines to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Meltzer uses his love of history and intricate detail to fuel this piece, educating the reader as often as possible while not burdening them with too many intricacies that might slow things down. Well-paced chapters and those powerful flashbacks of Nola provide all that the reader needs to feel drawn to the story while hoping for another one in the near future. This is a successful reemergence for Meltzer, whose adult fans are surely pleased to see him back!

Kudos, Mr. Meltzer, for another wonderful piece of writing. I can only hope you’ll capture the attention of your fans and remind them why you are top of your genre.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: