Brad Meltzer’ s latest novel ties together two of the most interesting people ever united by events in a book. The first one is a soldier named Nola Brown. Nola’s background includes a childhood marred by the worse treatment ever received by an adopted daughter from the man that became her father. She was bullied, browbeaten, and treated as garbage. Her only escape was to join the army.
While there she was chosen to be the Army’s Artist in Residence. She had the open-ended assignment of going wherever she wanted to and drawing what she saw to be included in the army’s record of the battle or the event in order to form a better picture of what occurred.
The other person is Jim “Zig” Zigarowski who works at Dover Air Force Base as a mortician in the section that receives fallen military personnel. Zig does not treat the position as something to just work at as his day job. His feelings towards the dead received causes him to labor long and hard at fixing up features of those that combat has disfigured in order to allow next of kin to be able to have open casket burials and find closure in that process.
Zig knew Nola years ago while she was in high school and saved the life of his daughter. Later in that period there was a terrible accident that did claim the life of Zig’s child and thereby ruined his life. His wife left him and Zig went deeper into the lonely business of dealing with the dead to ready them for burial.
The novel opens with the news of the crashing of a small plane coming from a secret military base in Alaska. Among other casualties, Zig learns that Nola is among the dead and solicits her body in order to work on it preparing for the funeral. He quickly discovers that the corpse is not Nola but someone else and begins his own intensive investigation of what is happening.
The events depicted keep the reader glued to the book in order to find out what is going on. Who is the person killed and, of course, where is Nola? Both Zig and Nola are very well delineated and their feelings and reactions to events are those that would happen to anyone caught up in those situations. It is possible that Nola might enter into future novels written by Brad Meltzer but the current book is able to stand on its own and provides an excellent reading experience for those enjoying it. Very well done.
3/18 Paul Lane
THE ESCAPE ARTIST by Brad Meltzer. Grand Central Publishing (March 6, 2018). ISBN: 978-1455559527. 434p.