Who is Nola Brown?
That’s the question readers will ask themselves as Brad Meltzer’s latest high-octane thriller, The Escape Artist, kicks off.
Officially, Nola Brown is dead. Her body was found among others after a devastating plane crash. Her commanding officer confirms Nola’s death, as does the United States government. So, too, does Jim Zigarowski’s boss, who signed off, triple-checking that the body arriving at Dover Air Force Base was, in fact, that of Nola Brown.
There’s just one problem.
Nola Brown isn’t dead. . .
Zigarowski, who goes by “Zig,” the Port Mortuary Branch Chief at Dover, spends each day with fallen troops. His job goes far beyond conducting autopsies. The bodies that arrive at Dover often need delicate care in order to be pieced back together. When parents, spouses, and children come to claim the remains of their beloved soldiers, they often want to see the body. And it’s Zig’s job to make sure the fallen look the way people remember them so that their families can have the proper closure they need.
Closure — it’s an important part of the grieving process, something Zig knows all too well.
So when bodies come in missing limbs, Zig works his magic, sculpting new ones out of clay. When their faces are ripped apart by shrapnel or burned beyond recognition, Zig applies makeup to make them look like their old selves. It’s a job he does with love, and something he takes very seriously. When it comes to restoring broken, ripped-apart flesh, there’s nobody better than Jim Zigarowski. In fact, it seems as though Zig is able to restore everyone. . . but himself.
Deep down, Zig is a broken man, having never recovered from the day his daughter, Maggie, his only child, tragically passed away.
What begins as an ordinary day quickly turns into anything but. Zig purposely signed up to work on Nola’s body. When her name first appeared on the list of victims from the plane crash, he recognized it immediately. Checking to make sure it was the same Nola he knew from nearly fifteen years ago was simple. Zig has plenty of security access, and for those rare times his clearance level isn’t high enough, well, he’s got friends in high places with enough juice to get the info he needs. Including this time, when he confirmed that this Nola Brown is the same Nola Brown from his hometown. . . the same Nola who once bravely, selflessly, did something for Maggie that Zig would never forget.
But as he gets to work repairing the body, Zig quickly realizes it’s not Nola. It can’t be. He’s able to confirm as such by running the deceased’s fingerprints. But why, he wonders, would someone try to pawn this body off as Nola Brown?
Surely, it couldn’t be an accident. The triple-check system is in place for this very reason. Someone–several people, actually–had to sign off on the soldier’s identification. Determined to get answers, Zig starts poking around. Going back to the body, he finds a chilling secret message intended for Nola, confirming that she is, indeed, out there. . . and that she’s in serious danger.
Putting his life on the line, Zig decides to risk everything in order to try and find Nola so he can deliver the hidden message before it’s too late. But his search raises more questions than answers, especially when he finds out that the plane Nola supposedly died on took off from a secret military base in Alaska. As he presses on, Zig eventually discovers a centuries-old conspiracy that can be traced all the way back to the world’s most famous escape artist of all time: Harry Houdini.
Meltzer has a gift for turning average Joes into unlikely heroes. He’s done it throughout his career, most notably with his Beecher White series (which by the way, seems to be set in the same universe as Zig and Nola–Meltzer’s fans will recognize a cameo from a certain president) and 2016’s The House of Secrets. There’s also nobody better when it comes to mixing in historical facts with nail-biting fiction.
Zig, like so many of us, is just an average guy who cares about his job and walks around with a big hole in his heart. He’s vulnerable, honest, and cares about doing the right thing, almost to a fault. He feels like he owes Nola, and that drives him onward. He’s wonderfully developed, and Meltzer portrays him in a way that makes Zig relatable, real, and compelling. But even so, Nola is the star here, and trust me, the less you know about her heading into this one the better.
In fact, all you really need to know is this: Nola Brown is Meltzer’s strongest female character yet, and when it’s all said and done, she’ll stand among the year’s best new characters. Period.
While he’s done it all–from penning New York Times bestsellers to hosting multiple hit television shows–Meltzer hasn’t ever written anything quite like his latest book. The Escape Artist is thrilling, yet full of soul. It’ll entertain you, and teach you. It’ll have you cheering, but it’ll also grip you emotionally. When you’re on the brink of tears, Meltzer makes you laugh. Toss in nonstop suspense, blind-siding twists and turns, a fascinating conspiracy, plenty of action. . . and you’ve got a story unlike anything else currently sitting on bookstore shelves, and a story that only Brad Meltzer could tell.
So, who is Nola Brown?
Find out on March 6th when Brad Meltzer’s must-read new novel, The Escape Artist, hits bookstores everywhere.
Author: Brad Meltzer
Series: Nola Brown #1
Pages: 434 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 9.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.