A bit of truth in packaging here, before we proceed. While THE ESCAPE ARTIST is subtitled “A Robin Monarch Short Story,” it is more accurately a generously-sized novella. This is the third installment (following BROTHERHOOD and THE ART OF RENDITION) in Mark Sullivan’s prelude to the eagerly-anticipated ROGUE, the first in a series of Monarch novels. In addition to length, Sullivan continues his practice of giving the reader two stories --- one in Monarch’s remote past, the other in his recent (2007) past --- that proceed along parallel tracks. The result is a reading experience that both satisfies and creates a hunger for more.
"...a reading experience that both satisfies and creates a hunger for more.... Sullivan has created an intriguing and complex character in Monarch, one for whom there are obviously many stories, past and present, left to tell."
THE ESCAPE ARTIST opens with a bang --- literally --- in 2007 with Monarch in the Republic of the Congo, working with the CIA in an undercover capacity. His mission is to misappropriate a giant diamond that is being auctioned off by Lieutenant Zed, a warlord who seeks to overthrow the Republic’s government with a conscripted army made up of young men barely out of childhood. Monarch is masquerading as one of the bidders for the diamond, and is very much in the middle of nowhere and (almost) on his own. Each incident that takes place harkens back to a defining experience in Monarch’s life when he was a teenager living on the streets of one of the world’s worst slums and functioning as a member of a gang known as La Fraternidad de Ladrones, or the Brotherhood of Thieves.
Monarch, along with gang leader Julio, and Claudio, Monarch’s closest friend in the gang, are tasked with pulling off a daring burglary at a warehouse, one with great monetary rewards but that ultimately changes Monarch’s status in the gang forever. Sullivan deftly switches the narrative between the two stories, the differences between them only serving to heighten their similarities as Monarch finds that his history repeats itself, even as he seeks to alter the path upon which he seems to have been set irrevocably.
Sullivan has created an intriguing and complex character in Monarch, one for whom there are obviously many stories, past and present, left to tell. Watch for that major launch with ROGUE on October 2nd, but in the meantime, get familiar with the character in THE ESCAPE ARTIST and its predecessors.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 24, 2012