The Escape Artist – A Book Review

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The alternating story of two characters, army artist Nola Brown and Dover Air Force Base mortician (you read that right) Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, The Escape Artist attempts to spotlight both characters while telling a compelling story about government secrets and high espionage. The results and very mixed and your mileage with the book may vary. I wanted to like The Escape Artist. I very much want to like novels by Brad Meltzer. I have read a few of them and they left me less than excited. I was hoping The Escape Artist would inspire a different reaction.

It did not.

While Nola Brown has elements that make her compelling, she is no Lisbeth Solander as I have read suggested. She is fairly well written, but there are some parts of her story that are so impossible to swallow that they strain credulity. And her counterpart Zig Zigarowski is the type of character who the reader is supposed to believe can do things far beyond what his experience would suggest simply because he has lived his life around the military. While there are interesting elements to both these characters, especially to Nola, neither riveted my attention for the entire book.

There is a surprising amount of darkness in The Escape Artist. Dark back stories lead to dark plot developments which lead to some very, very dark conclusions for characters. I was not expecting that from a book like this and, while I do enjoy being surprised as a reader, some of the turns were just a little too out there. They took me out of the story.

I will say, from a plot stand point, there is something fun going on here. Brad Meltzer is well known as a debunker of American (and worldwide) myths and an uncover-er of secret portions of history. He lends the plot of The Escape Artist that kind of gravity, suggesting that one of the most famous men in American entertainment history was, in fact, a spy for the US government. The conceit (pun intended) works and the plot hums along at a pretty solid pace.

But the dialogue has two major issues: one, the characters do not have distinct voices. They all sound alike. Two, the characters speak too cleverly by half. Not everyone has razor sharp, Aaron Sorkin-like wit in the real world. In Meltzer’s world, they do.

The Escape Artist is not a bad book, but I wanted it to be so much better…


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