Val McDermid’s latest novel is a stand-alone work, an ambitious and complex departure from THE RETRIBUTION, the previous outstanding installment in the Tony Hill series. While the book requires some patience initially as McDermid sets up the elements of her story, the reader’s indulgence is ultimately rewarded as every block is skewered before being knocked over and kicked to the curb.
THE VANISHING POINT begins with a nightmarish and unthinkable scenario. A woman and child arriving at O’Hare Airport from Great Britain become separated at security, and the boy is kidnapped. Stephanie Harker is in the process of adopting four-year-old Jimmie, whose mother was Scarlett Higgins, known in the tabloids as “Scarlett Harlot.” Scarlett became a reality television star in Great Britain, earning some notoriety that was transformed into a modicum of respectability. This was partly the result of Higgins’ autobiography, which was ghosted by Harker. When Scarlett was diagnosed with incurable cancer, she entrusted her son to Harker, the only person in her circle of very limited friends who she could trust to provide him with a normal upbringing.
"While the book requires some patience initially as McDermid sets up the elements of her story, the reader’s indulgence is ultimately rewarded as every block is skewered before being knocked over and kicked to the curb."
The narrative moves back and forth in time as Harker attempts to assist the FBI in their frenzied search for Jimmie, who has been abducted literally from under the nose of airport security collectively. She does this by providing an occasionally exhaustive narrative concerning what has gone before. The past is important in terms of possibly providing some clue as to who would be interested in kidnapping the boy. If the plan is to hold Jimmie for ransom, the kidnapper will be sorely disappointed, given that Scarlett’s will left her entire estate to charity. Jimmie’s father, a spoiled DJ whose tumultuous relationship with Scarlett provided fodder for the tabloids, is less than interested in asserting any parental responsibility, and that goes double for his relatives. There is also the possibility that the doer is someone from Harker’s own past. If so, then who?
Harker previously had been involved in a relationship with a somewhat possessive and borderline obsessive boyfriend, who may be making his presence known in order to teach her a lesson in an extremely misguided manner. While the narrative is a bit of a two steps forward, one step back read --- as what has gone before alternates with the seemingly plodding and haphazard investigation --- it leads to a surprising conclusion, one that follows a series of unexpected plot twists that challenge many suppositions created by what has been related before.
THE VANISHING POINT will not make McDermid’s fans forget about Tony Hill for a moment. This is a very different book, one that is a few steps away from the dark, atmospheric tone of most of her other efforts. Those who can make the leap of McDermid presenting a crime novel that is more of a beach read than a crime thriller will find their trust and effort amply rewarded. However, those expecting a book that is more in keeping with the balance of her large and extremely impressive body of work will more than likely regard THE VANISHING POINT as an interesting experiment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 9, 2012