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by Brad Meltzer
Grand Central, March 2018
434 pages
ISBN: 1455559520

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The four-page prologue describes a plane crash in Alaska in some detail. The scene shifts to Dover Air Base in Delaware, where Jim "Zig" Zigarowski, a mortician, prepares the bodies of returning soldiers for burial.

One of the bodies from the Alaskan plane crash is identified as Nola Brown and since Zig knew Nola when she was only twelve years old he insists on doing the body prep. Nola saved the life of Zig's daughter Maggie when they were both Girl Scouts together. Nola pushed Maggie out of the way of an exploding soda can, but a piece of metal scrap took a hunk out of Nola's ear. Now, Zig felt he owed Nola his best effort.

As Zig begins to process Nola's remains, he is puzzled by the fact that her left ear is intact – not even a scar where the hunk was originally missing after the accident years ago. Zig pulls a set of fingerprints and sends them to the FBI for an identification. While waiting for an answer on the fingerprints, Zig accidently knocks over the bucket of stomach contents and spies a lump. Turns out that lump is a crumpled piece of paper that he is opening when the FBI calls to tell him the fingerprints do not belong to Nola Brown. What he reads in the note is the third confirmation that the body is not that of Sgt. 1st Class Nola Brown: Nola, you were right. Keep running.

The note alarms Zig. Now he is determined to find Nola and help her if he can.

He starts by trying to find out who Nola designated to pick up her remains for burial, only to find out she changed her designee after she had died. Then he discovers that other deceased on the plane include Librarian of Congress Nelson Rookstool and three of his staff, Rose Mackenberg, Clifford Eddie, Jr and Amedco Vacca. Since the names of the three staffers belong to individuals born in the late 1800's, the authorities are perplexed. Especially since the original three all worked for Harry Houdini.

Zig calls his FBI contact to discuss the mysterious three names. Turns out these three had died multiple times before according to the FBI database, and the agent suggests they were cover names for operatives.

The next problem comes when there are two pick-ups for Nola's body. Zig arranges to accompany the second to his hometown funeral home. As the hearse pulls up to the loading dock, the driver tells him the someone is waiting for him inside.

Memories of working at Longwood flood his mind as he walks into back where he finds Nola waiting with a gun.

Over the next 300 pages Meltzer demonstrates his skill at building suspense. His character development of Nola and Zig is deep and impressive, especially in Nola's case. His "what is going on?" set-up is thoroughly and logically explained, with a few red herrings that keep the reader wondering right up to the end.

In the end, THE ESCAPE ARTIST is finely tuned suspense. Enjoy.

§ Ruth Castleberry has worked as an investigator for Pinkerton’s, a city desk assistant on the Charlotte News, free-lance writer, marketing/business strategy consultant, competitive intelligence practitioner and digital marketing consultant.

Reviewed by Ruth Castleberry, March 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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