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The Escape Artist is the latest thriller written by the author Brad Meltzer. It is so far a standalone novel, but given the book’s ending, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to become the first in a new series.
In the book, we enter the world of morticians – but not just any morticians. Because Jim “Zig” Zigarowski is special.
He is employed at the Dover Air Force Base where he lovingly works at the bodies of soldiers who are returned in a body bag from war, or after major and horrific events like 9/11, etc.
He not only conducts autopsies but also tries to make the bodies look at their best for their families, to give them some closure. Because sometimes these bodies look nothing like they looked before their lives were taken away from them.
Zig has a real talent at his craft, and when the parents, spouses or even children of the fallen want to see the bodies, he makes sure that they truly look just the way the family remembers them. Closure is very important to Zig because he hasn’t really found any, not since his only daughter passed away all those years ago.
As we start reading the novel, we are taken on a military plane transporting some very important people, which is about to crash. Sergeant First Class Nola Brown knows that, so she is trying to jump out of the plane at the last minute. Sadly, she dies in the process along with everyone else on that plane.
When the bodies are taken to Dover, Zig takes over their case, especially since he learns that Nola was also on that plane. Zig knew Nola back in the day when his daughter was also alive. In fact, Nola saved Maggie’s life, and Zig never did get a chance to repay her for the good deed.
So maybe, just maybe, doing his best on her body would even the score just a bit.
But what Zig finds during his examination is that Nola is not really Nola, even though everyone else around him is trying his hardest to maintain otherwise. And when he discovers – quite by accident – a hidden message from the deceased to the real Nola, he knows for certain that there is something much bigger at play here, and the real Nola’s life might be in serious danger.
This starts his personal investigation into the matter in a way that puts him in grave danger as well. There is a major conspiracy at work here, one that involves some of the biggest political players who do not want their secrets out. And Zig might be just the catalyst for that to happen.
The Escape Artist was a great read. There is action, suspense, and political intrigue all the way. The characters are well fleshed out, and I liked both Nola and Zig.
Zig is a regular, average man thrown into an extraordinary situation, where he tries to do the best he can, even when he knows that the forces he goes against are way bigger than he is.
Nola is a very complex character with a lot of hidden past that make her a brooding and, overall, a not very pleasant person to be around.
Before picking up the book, based on the blurb and endorsements by big names, I thought the book is about Nola. But, as it turned out, it was more about Zig. Considering that I liked Zig’s character way more than I liked Nola, this suited me just fine.
The story was told from several points of view with flashbacks to both Zig and Nola’s pasts which helped the reader figure out some things and some quirky character traits (especially Nola’s). Also, it helped understand Zig’s deep-seated pain of losing his daughter much better.
While I consider it a mulitary thriller, the book is much more than that. It is about parents having to live with the grief over losing their children. It is this grief that pushes Zig to go over the top to uncover Nola’s secret and try to help her even when she insists she doesn’t need his help.
Nola and Maggie were never really friends, and it was more a reflex that allowed Nola to save Maggie’s life back in the day. Yet, that means for Zig another 11 months of being together with his daughter before she was finally taken away from him, so in his heart, he owes Nola a great debt, one that he intends to pay fully, even if it means killing him in the process.
I can’t say I loved this book, but I liked it enough that I will pick up the second installment if it ever becomes a series. I think it has to do with the fact that the blurb makes you think the book is something it is not. I assume that people who have never read the blurb will enjoy it way more than those who were hyped in the strong marketing message surrounding its release.
I no longer rate books on Mystery Sequels, but if I did, I would give it a strong 4 out of 5 stars.
The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Genres: Crime mystery
Source: Review Copy