I haven’t read a good thriller in a long time, in fact, not since I eagerly flipped through the pages of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series have I hungered for the twists and turns of the suspenseful words found in Brad Meltzer’s new thriller, The Escape Artist.
I can be a bit picky about the thriller genre; of course I want to twist and turn right along with the suspense, but I also want enthralling characters, layered backstories, and plot devices that don’t limply hold my hand until I turn the page, but tug me along in urgency to discover the next jaw-dropping moment. I always want more and I found it in The Escape Artist.
Meltzer has the rare ability to create a world of intrigue and suspense that keeps my thumbs curled over page corners. He doesn’t just give you the characters, he asks you to soak them in. His venture into the DC world with the miniseries, “Identity Crisis,” cemented his ability to create complex storylines of pain and depth that permitted me to connect the dots of a character’s motivations and choices.
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This is, perhaps, my favorite part of Meltzer’s writing style. He manages to develop multi-faceted characters whose depth and raw scrapes of pain leave me thirsty for more in the best of ways. Seriously, though, I find myself scouring social media for hints of a sequel.
Like many of Meltzer’s previous works, such as The Fifth Assassin and The First Counsel, The Escape Artist is embedded with tiny snippets of history and little-known facts which lead the protagonist, Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, a mortician at Dover Air Force Base, on a daring adventure.
Zig’s compassion in putting the often battle-scarred deceased to rest (he takes extra care to hide wounds that could allude to the pain they suffered) gave me an immediate sense of his morality and willingness to go above and beyond to right any wrongs.
Enamored with Zig’s level of commitment to those who have passed, I was not surprised when he set forth to demand justice once he realized that the body of a woman that he inters is falsely identified as “Nola Brown.” The real Nola Brown was a childhood friend of Zig’s daughter—so he knows that when the US government confirms that Nola is dead, something is seriously awry.
When Zig finds a secret message revealing a far-reaching government conspiracy, his explosive adventure to protect Nola begins. But Meltzer doesn’t opt for the predictable damsel in distress storyline—it soon becomes clear that Nola is not drowning in victim-hood, but intentionally seeking answers that have been denied.
Nola is a trained soldier and painter serving as the U.S. Army’s artist-in-residence (yes—this is a real thing that Meltzer discovered in his research). Her job is to rush into battle and make art that captures scenes of war that might otherwise be forgotten. But on her last mission, Nola witnesses something that no one was ever supposed to see. Now, she’s on the run with an unflinching determination to discover the truth.
I was relieved that I wasn’t embarking on a journey where the male protagonist saves a secondary, helpless female character. In fact, I found myself smiling when it became clear that Nola—flawed and emotionally scarred—was navigating her own journey before Zig was even able to grasp the gravity of the situation he had just jumped into.
I read The Escape Artist with an intense intent, pausing and turning back pages, in shock when I confirmed that I had missed a skillfully hidden clue that led to yet another layer of the mystery I yearned to unfold.
I even found myself jotting down notes next to character’s nicknames in hopes I could unravel the mystery before the final pages prompted me to. I couldn’t, which is what makes The Escape Artist such a great read and what makes me yearn for the storylines of Zig and Nola to continue in (hopefully) a trilogy of intrigue and suspense.
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Callie Ryan Brimberry is a teacher, writer, and editor in Virginia. She is a Book Riot contributor and spends her free time leaving books on park benches and in random coffee houses hoping her margin notes read like love letters to those who’ve yet to fall in love with reading.