I received a complimentary copy of The Escape Artist from Grand Central Publishing in an exchange for an honest review of its merits.
One of the nice thing about your favorite authors is that when you pick up a copy of their latest work you pretty much know what you are getting. Sue Grafton gave us detective stories, John Grisham (with a couple notable exceptions) spins a good legal tale, Kristin Hannah is going to dig deep into your soul and make you yell or cry, or both. Nicolas Sparks will tell you of uncommon love and the characters in a Joel Green novel are nigh unto bursting with angst.
And Brad Meltzer is the name you look for when you want a really good mystery about hidden secrets but you don't want to say up for days questioning all of human history. If that’s what you want, you knock on Dan Brown’s door.
Meltzer has become the go-to guy for a fun, fast-paced thriller that most often includes people searching for obscure clues about an ancient mystery.
But in the acknowledgements of The Escape Artist, Meltzer tells you something profound happened to him when he was touring with the USO six years ago make him “realize the difference between being alive and actually living.” While this sounds like fortune-cookie wisdom, it is much more than that for this best-selling author. Meltzer is a changed man and it shows in his writing.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s not waxing poetic about the banality of the human condition or anything. There is definitely the thrill and mystery that is coded into the DNA of any Brad Meltzer title. But that’s not all that’s there.
In The Escape Artist, the mystery in this tale takes a backseat to character development. Nola and Zig are deeply wounded people and we spend a lot of time in their skin watching new bumps and bruises being added atop the old scars that may be faded but still are tender to the touch. Some of the scratches are on the surface, but others cut much deeper.
And while Meltzer respected the source material for his earlier stories, there is a reverence here for the heart-wrenching pain and heart-warming honor that comes with caring for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.
So, by the time the actual mystery is fully fleshed out deep in the third act, you’re not really bothered by the fact because you’ve been drawn into the story of these two people who’ve been drawn together by fate more than once.
In this work, Meltzer’s storytelling prowess is transformed into something altogether new. He is deeper and more introspective than he has been before. I’m not sure if his next tale will take us back to familiar territory of long-forgotten secrets and stashes of hidden wealth, but I, for one, am hopeful that Meltzer is speaking of himself when his protagonist realizes that “[s]ometimes you need to bury your old life—and make a new one.”
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.