San Antonio Express News
March 18, 2018
Zig searches for Nola’s personal effects and finds her charred boots, a wristwatch, a few burned pieces of uniform and a folded portrait on canvas. He is struck by the items that aren’t there — no dog tags, no phone, no wallet. Convinced the real Nola Brown is alive and fearful that she is a victim of foul play, Zig sets out to find her. He discovers that Nola is an artist-in-residence for the Army and travels the world painting portraits of fellow soldiers in distress.
Nola also harbors a hideous secret, so vile that it can threaten the life of anyone who encounters it. Soon, Zig is awash in a government conspiracy that revolves around magicians Harry Houdini and Horatio Green Cooke, who stood at Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed. He must confront Nola’s terrible secret and face his own annihilation.
The Escape Artist marks Meltzer’s 20-year anniversary of his first thriller, The Tenth Justice, and his evolution as a writer is notable. Frequently praised for his quirky, memorable characters, in this novel he dissects them from the skin to the soul, methodically exfoliating each raw layer until he exposes their vital force. Nola attracts trouble, and Zig jumps headlong into the middle of it. Nola is his ticket to the past — a time when life was simpler and relationships were easier to manage. Like a magician, she slips in and out, up, down, around corners, through barriers, and eludes anyone who attempts to hold on to her.
“Zig could live with the maneuverings,” Meltzer writes. “Indeed, he had to respect her for a smart play like that. No, for Zig, the real pain came from what it showed him about himself.”
Meltzer has been remarkably busy the past 20 years. In addition to a dozen cutting-edge thrillers, he has written a series of award-winning children’s books under the title “Ordinary People Change the World,” and hosted two programs on the History Channel. He also helped find the missing American flag that firefighters raised at ground zero, making national news on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
“Looking back,” writes Meltzer in the acknowledgments, “it seems clear I was in the midst of my own crisis, examining my life and my place in this world. The point is, I believe every book is born from a need, and it was this book that helped me realize the difference between being alive and actually living.”