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The Disappearing Act


The Disappearing Act

As a longtime fan of psychological thrillers, whether they be in novel or movie form, I appreciate the often intricate details and plot elements that keep you guessing and second-guessing from beginning to end. Every once in a while, you get one that offers a far simpler premise and then pulls the rug out from under you when you least expect it.

This is what occurs in THE DISAPPEARING ACT, British author and actress Catherine Steadman’s latest book. She deftly sets things up with a seemingly harmless situation that slowly begins to snowball into something far more sinister. Our protagonist is Mia Eliot, a recent BAFTA-nominated actress from London. She meets with her agent in search of new challenges and decides to spend a few weeks across the pond in Hollywood, where she auditions for a handful of roles. She also needed to get away from London, where her actor boyfriend had recently jilted her for a younger actress.

"THE DISAPPEARING ACT is a near-flawless work of psychological suspense that sneaks up on you, creeps into your psyche, and turns the tables on all that you thought you knew about everyone involved."

It's not long before Mia’s head is spinning, not just from the cultural differences between London and Hollywood but the puzzling situation in which she finds herself. In the novel’s opening sequence, Mia muses to herself that she no longer knows what the story of her life would be if it were a film…or even if she would be the main character anymore. She also, quite ironically, ponders that no matter how hard you try, sometimes you can’t disappear. Later reflection will reveal that this thought is pertinent not just to her personal situation but also to the events in which she will become immersed during her Hollywood auditions.

It seemed innocent enough. While waiting to be called in for one of her auditions, Mia briefly befriends a fellow actress who is seeking the same role. Emily is scheduled to read before Mia when she realizes that she needs to feed the meter where her car is parked. Doing the noble, proper British thing, Mia agrees to take care of that for her so Emily does not lose her place in line. Emily hands Mia her car keys and wallet in very trusting fashion, and Mia takes care of it. But when she returns, she does not see Emily come out from her reading and no one seems to remember her. Even the receptionist can’t recall her from the myriad of auditioning actresses, all of whom have similar features.

When Mia finishes her audition, she leaves a note on the windshield of Emily's car and is confronted by a man who asks what she is doing. She tells the odd tale, and Nick, who is working in the area, swaps numbers with her, indicating that he will keep an eye on the automobile and feed the meter if necessary. He also promises to notify Mia if and when the mysterious Emily should return.

Even though Mia ends up landing a lead role at another audition, she cannot stop thinking about what transpired. She even returns to the vehicle, which is at the same parking space, and retrieves the rental agreement that contains Emily’s phone number. She leaves a message for Emily letting her know that she still has her wallet and car keys and how she can be reached. Surprisingly, Mia gets a text from Emily that refers to a personal issue that took her away suddenly and that she would stop by the hotel to pick up her belongings.

Much to Mia’s surprise, the woman who arrives looks a lot like Emily, but Mia swears it is not her. She tests her by referring to a promise of a coffee date that they never made when they met at the audition, and the bogus Emily falls for the verbal trap. Not knowing quite what to do, Mia ends up giving the items to this apparent imposter. The next day, she contacts the LAPD to open a missing person case.

Mia obsessively meets up with the fake Emily and continues to push her buttons until she comes right out and confronts her about her true identity. When all is said and done, the woman provides a convoluted explanation. We are firmly down the rabbit hole at this point, and Mia does not know what to believe or who to trust. When she receives a warning note in her hotel room that reads "BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT YOU DO NEXT," Mia realizes that she is in way too deep but still intends to find out what is really going on.

THE DISAPPEARING ACT is a near-flawless work of psychological suspense that sneaks up on you, creeps into your psyche, and turns the tables on all that you thought you knew about everyone involved. As an actor, I appreciated Steadman’s use of the cattle call audition process as the foundation for this nail-biting thriller. Those situations are stressful enough without having them take the bizarre turn that only an actress and top-notch writer could have dreamt up.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 11, 2021

The Disappearing Act
by Catherine Steadman