The Escape Artist

It happened! It finally happened! I completely escaped into a wonderful novel and read the whole thing this evening. I can’t remember the last time such a feat occurred. The book is called The Escape Artist by Diane Chamberlain, and I recommend it as a fun, engaging read.

I came down with a mild case of food poisoning today which ended up being just the right level of illness during which I’m too sick to function or work, but I feel well enough that I can laze about watching movies or reading. I chose reading, but The Escape Artist was not the first, second or even third book I started today. It was the fourth! That’s right, I attempted three other books before I found one worthy of being read.

The first book was the one I described in my post, Time, and it just didn’t improve. In fact, not only do I find the character impossible to sympathize or empathize with, I now can’t stand her. The rest of the characters are just as bad. So I’ve officially given up.

I got through 52% of the second book I tried. It was a stupid little escapist story about a woman and her friend who discover the dead body of a man they know (and don’t like) on their small town’s golf course, and then the woman moronically tries to solve the murder (she probably succeeds, but I’ll never know). It wasn’t well-written from the start, but I thought it might be silly enough to distract me from the pains in my stomach. That’s until the inane thought process of this 35-year-old mother led her to believe that everyone she came into contact could possibly by the murderer; she thought the hunky golf pro who slept with every other woman he came in contact with might have real feelings for her; and she was horrified at the idea of teenage children seeing dogs have sex because that might pollute their minds. It was making my stomach hurt more. I gave up.

The third book turned out to be part 2 of a series. I really don’t understand the appeal of books in series lately. Why is it so bad for authors to come up with new characters and plots? But that’s a rant for another day. The first few pages of this were not brilliant by any standards, but they reminded me vaguely of a Paige Turner mystery, which I did enjoy, so I would be willing to give the first story a go. As far as I could gather, this second book was simply a rehashing of the first story with a new dead guy and presumably a new villain. I gave up and  have no intention of going back, even if I do read the first book.

Then I started The Escape Artist. Given the day’s earlier reading debacles, I had low hopes, but this book grabbed me pretty quickly and didn’t let go. It’s the story of a passive woman, Suzanne, who loses custody of her 11-month-old son, so she kidnaps him, changes their identity and goes on the run. After she settles, she buys a used computer that has a file with a list of names, addresses and dates on it. She makes friends, gets work and is just starting to feel comfortable when she realizes the file on her computer is a list of people targeted by a serial killer. In order to save the next person on the list, she’ll need to risk everything she’s built up for herself, including her life with her son.

Some criticisms I read of the story describe it as unrealistic, which is true, but that’s precisely why it’s fiction. I thought the storyline and main character were both nicely developed. It was impossible not to care about what happened to Suzanne and her son, and I even came close to tearing up a few times, which is very unlike me. Interestingly, I also found my self sympathizing with some of the antagonists of the story. There’s the new woman who stole Suzanne’s husband and then gains full custody of her little boy, and even the killer — both were far more sympathetic than one might expect. Ms. Chamberlain also wrote a very effective backstory to explain Suzanne’s meekness at the start of the story. I typically find using an alcoholic, abusive childhood to be a crutch writers use, but in this case, the author wove it into the story effectively, creating a background for Suzanne that made her escape with her son all the more impressive and brave.

There were weaknesses in the story, such as an overly one-dimensional evil ex-husband. But I can overlook that. The important points are that it’s well written with good characters, an interesting and unique plot, and a quick, exciting pace. I only put the book down long enough to make popcorn (which goes perfectly with an upset stomach!).

 

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