The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.
The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer once again proves he is the master of secrets. His books always delve into the hidden stories of the characters and governmental conspiracies. He has a knack for finding out and then writing about interesting topics that are not widely well-known, incorporating them into a thrilling story.
The book starts off with a bang when one of the passengers jumps out of a plane without a parachute before it crashes to the ground. It might have received little notice except that one of the passengers was the Librarian of Congress and a good friend of President Orson Wallace. A little tidbit, this is the same President who appeared in Meltzer’s previous series.
Following the crash Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, a very skilled mortician at Dover Air Force Base, is assigned to perform his magic on the bodies of those who crashed. He has unique reconstructive talents that has made it possible for families to view the peaceful remains of their lost loved ones, allowing them to make sure the fallen look the way people remember them so that their families can have the proper closure they need. Some bodies have missing limbs, so Zig must sculpt new ones out of clay. If their faces are ripped apart by shrapnel or burned beyond recognition, he does his magic with makeup. It’s a job he does with love, and something he takes very seriously.
One of the bodies from the plane crash is Nola Brown, a name Zig recognizes immediately, since she saved his daughter, Maggie’s life and lost a portion of her ear in the process. A year after Nola saved Maggie she ended up dying in a tragic accident and Nola had a terrible childhood at the hands of sociopathic foster parents. Zig’s sadness turns to surprise after realizing the body in front of him had no ear damage making Zig positive that it was not Nola. This sparks a personal mission to find Nola. He is determined to discover who are the remains he was working on, and unravel the mystery of the mix up. Through the investigation Zig uncovers that Nola is the U.S. Army's artist-in-residence, a painter and trained soldier who rushes into battle, making art from war's aftermath and sharing observations about today's wars that would otherwise go overlooked.
After finding her they work together uncovering a sinister scheme called Operation Bluebook, based on the magician’s Harry Houdini secret way of revealing fake fortune-tellers, separating truth from lies. Zig and Nola must find who is behind Bluebook before the conspirators can kill them. In the course of the investigation they realize that they have a lot in common. It seems as though Zig and Nola are able to restore everyone but themselves.
This riveting story is about handling grief, the feeling of loss, and the ability to recover. But it also delves into how secrets can be costly to one’s health.