It has been two years since we’ve seen a new novel from Joseph Finder; the title of his latest, VANISHED, almost seems to acknowledge that. Finder has been neither gone nor forgotten, but has been laboring in the grammar mine to unearth his best book to date, one in which all of his trademark skills come together as they have in the past, but in a slightly different way.
VANISHED introduces (the brilliantly named) Nick Heller, who may well be Finder’s most intriguing protagonist yet. Equal parts Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, Nick is odds-on to be the smartest person in the room at any given gathering, and on those rare occasions when he does not know the answer to something, he fakes it so well that no one can tell the difference. When we meet Nick, he is dispatched by his employer, a high echelon investigation and security agency, to determine what has happened to airplane cargo that seems to have been offloaded under the noses of the airport guards.
But Nick soon becomes more deeply involved in a personal matter when he receives a frantic call from his nephew, Gabe. Nick’s brother Roger and sister-in-law Lauren were attacked after having dinner, resulting in Lauren’s hospitalization and Roger’s disappearance. Despite his years-long estrangement from his brother, Nick is loyal to Gabe and Lauren, and in any event is hard-wired to do the right thing. So he sets everything else aside and puts all his powers and skills to the task of ascertaining not only whether Roger is still alive, but also the reason behind the assault and apparent abduction. As Nick begins to dig into his brother’s life, he finds out far more about Roger than he ever wanted to know.
The rift between the once friendly brothers arose as a result of their very different attitudes toward their father, a brilliant but crooked financier whose billionaire status was achieved through the utilization of a shadowy network of dummy corporations and offshore bank accounts. Now languishing in disgrace in prison, Nick’s father is a memory he would rather forget. It develops, however, that the ex-billionaire had been in frequent contact with Roger before the attack and abduction. Further, Lauren is receiving threats, even as Nick himself is seemingly being discouraged by unknown assailants from pursuing the matter. Following an electronic trail across cell phone records and e-mails, and pursuing a dangerous trek across the physical world, Nick finds what he is seeking within a highly fortified Southern compound that leads him to answers steeped in greed, deceit and betrayal.
Finder has been a marvel from the very start of his writing career, and VANISHED takes him to new heights. It is a sharp, intricate thriller, shot through with memorable characters both good and bad, and wonderfully told from beginning to end. And about that “end”: the last 50 pages or so, in which everything is made clear, contains some of the best writing you will read this year. And if the foregoing is not enough, the fact that VANISHED is the first in a series of Heller books will surely make it a mandatory addition to the "must read" lists of thriller readers everywhere.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 18, 2009