The Lightning Rod – Brad Meltzer

The Lightning Rod Brad Meltzer
The Lightning Rod by Brad Meltzer
Series: Escape Artist #2
Published by William Morrow & Company on March 8, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Thriller
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Zig and Nola are back--in the hugely entertaining, highly anticipated follow-up to Brad Meltzer's #1 New York Times bestselling thriller The Escape Artist.
Archie Mint has led a charmed life--he's got a beautiful wife, two impressive kids, and a successful military career. When he's killed while trying to stop a robbery in his own home, his family is shattered--and then shocked when the other shoe drops. Mint's charmed life, so perfect on the surface, held criminal secrets none of them could have imagined.
While working on Mint's body before his funeral, mortician "Zig" Zigarowski discovers something he was never meant to see. That telling detail leads him to Dover Air Force Base, where he uncovers Mint's involvement in a top-secret military unit and his connection to military artist and Sergeant First Class Nola Brown. Two years ago, Nola saved Zig's life--so he knows better than most that she's as volatile and dangerous as a bolt of lightning.
Everyone wants to talk to Nola, but she's not cooperating--and indeed doesn't want to be found. In order to track her down, Zig teams with Nola's long missing brother, who's just as combustible as she is. As they follow Nola's trail, they discover one of the U.S. government's most intensely guarded secrets--an undisclosed military facility that dates back to the Cold War and holds the key to something far more sinister: a hidden group willing to compromise the very safety and security of America itself.
Trouble always finds her...
She's the lightning rod.

The protagonists of this book are a mortician at a secret military base and a military artist-in-residence called upon to bear witness to the horrors of war. With characters like that, there’s a lot that can go right—and a lot that can go wrong. Fortunately, Meltzer mostly stay in the “everything right” category as he pilots a wild and original plot full of twists and turns.

The Lightning Rod is the second book in Meltzer’s Escape Artist series, picking up where The Escape Artist left off, offering a whole new adventure while continuing to piece in clues to the duo’s shared past. You can easily read The Lightning Rod as a standalone, but knowledge of the first book will help you better orient yourself to the characters and setting.

In this story, Archie Mint gets killed. It starts with a valet/thief at a restaurant, who uses access to Mint’s car to try to get access to his house. The thief stumbles into a murderer-in-waiting and Mint—able to track the would-be thief—soon follows. It’s an interesting twist that’s just one of several as the stakes spread out and the body count mounts. Zig discovers some anomalies with Mint’s body. Nola resurfaces with some kind of connection. Several threads intertwine and you can’t tell what’s a red herring and what’s a real lead.

Meltzer plays with some storylines I wish he fleshed out a bit more, the virtual reality app Blackhouse being one of them. I thought that was going to be a core of the story, but Meltzer only uses it ex machina to move the plot forward. It was a pretty disappointing use of the most interesting concept in the book.

I also have a love/hate relationship with the way things play out. Being vague to avoid spoilers, I just have to say that the direction Meltzer took with Mint’s murder was wholly unexpected. Meltzer layers it in well so it all makes sense, but it’s such a surprise that you’re then not sure what to do with this giant red herring of a storyline that then has to be tied up. It’s a bold choice, one that only an established author can make, and only time will tell if it was a good decision. Overall, I like it because it plays so much with expectations. But at the same time, it undercuts a fair amount of the plot.

Overall, The Lightning Rod was a fun and intense read. Meltzer’s pacing is swift and he finds the perfect balance between exposition and action.