When I first read a summary of VANISH, Tess Gerritsen's riveting new novel, in terms of a movie proposal my first thought was "Cagney & Lacey play Die Hard in a hospital." It's somewhat accurate, as far as plot points are concerned. Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli is in labor (and the method by which labor is, uh, induced is alone worth the price of admission) when she, her physician, and a couple of other patients and medical professionals are taken hostage.
The hostage taker is an enigma. She was on the cold slab in the coroner's office, an apparent drowning victim, when Boston Medical Examiner Maura Isles discovered she was alive after all. The mystery woman was hospitalized, regained consciousness, shot and killed a security guard, and started taking hostages. Sound interesting? I've left out some of the best parts. And that doesn't even cover the first 100 pages.
Tess Gerritsen is an internist who left the practice of medicine to raise her children and write on a full-time basis. She wisely doesn't drown the reader in medical jargon; there's just enough in there to keep things accurate without bogging down her story. Gerritsen's writing is such that her words sprout wings that make the pages fly by so fast you don't even realize they're turning. One of the methods she utilizes is splitting up the action amongst a number of different locations. You have your scene inside the hospital, and you have your scene outside the hospital, where Rizzoli's husband, FBI agent Gabriel Dean, is understandably a wreck over the condition of his wife and unborn child. Then there is the backstory concerning a woman named Mila, who may or may not be our mystery lady come back to life, and who is dealing with a truckload of anger.
Avid readers of the suspense genre will have a pretty good idea of what's going on, but Gerritsen's writing style so effectively generates anxiety that VANISH would be a nail-biter even if you read the ending first. Don't do that, though; it's great fun to watch Gerritsen work, as she slowly and tantalizingly unveils the mysteries of what is occurring, and why. This is also a very subtle morality tale; there are concerns here about so-called victimless crimes, and the people who make their fortunes perpetrating them. As with the best of Gerritsen's work, VANISH travels beyond its suspense novel trappings and provides the genesis for real-world considerations that will keep the reader thinking long after the reading is done.
Gerritsen's work has gotten better with each successive book, and VANISH continues that trend. This is another strong, subtle thriller by a writer who shows no sign whatsoever of running out of new ideas.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011