New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer returns with his latest thriller that easily contains everything one would expect from the author, and from the genre. Like any disaster movie from the 70s, The Escape Artist is heavy-handed for the first full half of the book. Packed with character development (A divorced military mortician with a conveniently-short nickname! A hotshot, always-in-control artist with trust issues on the move! Dastardly-evil killers on the prowl!), situational set-ups (Flashbacks to the past that are haunting and relevant! Escape from Alaska! Dover Air Force Base, because, Delaware, man!), and of course, a hefty heaping of people sticking their noses into business they should leave well alone. But seriously, without these tropes, where would the fun be?
The Escape Artist is a fun, escapist (ahem) read, once the action finally kicks in during the second half of the book. Betrayals, twists, and revelations a plenty that are satisfying and, in a few instances, actually surprising. Having the lead, Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, as a military mortician is a unique archetype, as is Nola Brown, the Army’s artist-in-residence. Meltzer makes great use of the setting, bringing realism and an authentic look at the procedures for an Air Force base dealing with care for the fallen.
Whereas his angle of incorporating Harry Houdini and his devices in with the US Government is as close to the standard conspiracy-theory-Meltzer as this book gets, that is the one plot element that deserved more attention instead of focusing on the standard cat-and-mouse chases involving Zig and Nola and their nefarious assailants. After all, this is The Escape Artist, not The Mortician. A deeper sense of legerdemain would have been most appreciated. The true escape artist here is Brad Meltzer himself, who pulls back the curtain on a fun, albeit standard, genre thriller.
Thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the advance sleight-of-hand read.