The Vanishing Point
- Little, Brown Book Group
- Publication Date:
- 13 September 2012
- Crime, Thrillers and Mystery
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There is a reason why Val McDermid is so widely respected for her books. The twists and turns of this one prove it.Stephanie is a ghost writer who ends up with the job of writing the life story of reality star Scarlett Higgins. Unexpectedly, she forms a true friendship with Scarlett, and in the wake of Scarlett’s tragic death, finds herself the guardian of Scarlett’s only child, Jimmy. Until the day he is kidnapped. She hopes the answer to his disappearance can be found in their past.When the story began, I was a bit skeptical. First, the beginning of the book is full of the worst stereotypes of both Americans and the TSA (not that I plan to defend the TSA much). Second, the thought of Stephanie telling her entire recent life story in the wake of Jimmy’s kidnapping is a bit far-fetched. But, as the book continued, I could suspend my disbelief in favor of it being an interesting bit of story construction. Because Stephanie’s, and Scarlett’s, story captured me completely.Not that the book didn’t have some problems. For one, the thought of Stephanie going back to England three days after the kidnapping baffled me. I’m fairly certain that if my child (biological or not) were kidnapped while I was traveling in another country, you would have to forceably remove me to get me to leave. Also, Stephanie’s anonymity was suspect, especially for someone who was such a large part of Scarlett’s life. I did manage to guess part of the ending after the first red herring is dealt with, but the full extent of it was a complete surprise. I admired how far McDermid was willing to go.So overall, I thought this was a very good read, if you can forgive the few parts that don’t quite hold together as well as they should.
Val McDermid has written a number of psychological novels with characters so vivid that they could be used as part of the studies for masters in fine arts programs."The Vanishing Point" opens with a child being kidnapped from Chicago's O'Hare airport.The woman with the five-year-old knows that she has pins in her leg from an operation so tells the child, Jimmy Higgins, to go to the other line and wait at the end.As she's waiting her turn, she sees Jimmy walking off with a TSA official. When she makes a commotion that someone is taking her kid, TSA officials think she's making it up and take her to a private interview room.An officious TSA agent continues to confront her but she finally gets the attention of an FBI agent who looks at the footage and sees the boy walking off with the TSA official.When the woman, Stephanie Harker, talks to the FBI, she tells how she came to have Jimmy Harker. In the back story, we learn that Stephanie was a ghost writer for a reality TV star named Scarlett and that Scarlett and she became very close. When Scarlett found that her cancer was terminal, she told Stephanie that she was the only one she could trust to bring Jimmy up the way she would have wanted.The author creates suspense in a story by having characters who are so real and a situation that is believable. The reader can see themselves in the situation so has compassion for the character.The unique quality of McDermid's books is that she creates superior thrillers with excellent dialogue, and memorable characters, written in a literary style.
Val McDermid is one of the great writers of thrillers - particularly those with both a psychological bent as well as a stunning amount of brutality that manages to be essential to the plot rather than a voyeuristic add-on. She is unusual in that she manages to write both series books and standalones that all each work on their own merits. Usually series writers don't write very good standalones and vice versa, but McDermid is utterly dependable. Her books are always well-plotted and fun to read, but also full of humanity in all its dreadful beauty. Can you tell I like her writing?<i>The Vanishing Point</i> takes on the world of reality television stars in the UK (although it's not much different than in the US) - these "ordinary" people who become famous mostly for making asses out of themselves on television for the world to see. McDermid argues that this behavior is part of a carefully plotted strategy to grab fame and fortune, but becomes self-limiting because while bad behavior is amusing for awhile at some point people just get bored with the trainwreck and the money stops coming in. "Oh, look, another head on the tracks - how expected." If you've followed the history of many of these people their lives become this tawdry public tragedy with little of happiness in them, perhaps because most have nothing to offer but their spectacle. It's bread <b>and</b> circuses, right? Not just circuses.In Scarlett, the mother of the child taken in this book, McDermid creates a character struggling to free herself from the bad reputation that built her career - trying to change it up, to be someone different. Much of this seems inspired by the impending birth of her child, Jimmy, and her desire to provide a good home for him (where good means continuing to have loads of money), but there are glimpses of someone trying to rise above circumstance and bad choices to become a real person rather than a caricature. Scarlett's change is chronicled by her ghost writer, Stephanie, a woman who specializes in ghost writing for celebrities, but who becomes drawn into Scarlett's world through the friendship that grows between them. Someone's using someone, but it's hard to decide who or when or even why. When Scarlett dies tragically from cancer - brave and fighting until the end, her reputation utterly redeemed - she leaves her son to Stephanie, but not her money.At the point where we come in, Jimmy has been taken from Stephanie at an airport in the US from right beneath her nose. TSA doesn't notice and labels Stephanie a danger from the moment she breaks free of security to go after her child. <i>The Vanishing Point</i> tells the story of before and after and draws the reader into all of its different worlds. It's a great read, loads of fun, and plenty to keep the reader turning pages. Highly recommended.
The Vanishing Point is a thrilling stand alone mystery from Val McDermid. While Stephanie Harker waits in a perspex box to be patted down at a Chicago airport, her young charge, Jimmy Higgins, is led away by a stranger while airport security ignores her anguished cries. In the search for a motive for the abduction, Stephanie relates her unusual friendship with Jimmy's British celebrity mother, Scarlett, who recently died from cancer, to FBI Special Agent Vivian McKuras. As the tale unfolds, and it becomes clear that Jimmy probably knew his kidnapper, Detective Sergeant Nick Nicolaides begins tracing the list of possible suspects in the UK, a trail that eventually uncovers a stunning web of lies, deception, and betrayal.Drawing inspiration from the current social appetite for reality television and their stars, The Vanishing Point explores the life of Scarlett Higgins. A young woman who parlays her controversial role in a Survivor/Big Brother type reality series into modest fame and fortune, Scarlett's agent engages Stephanie to ghost write a memoir in an attempt to bolster Scarlett's profile. The project leads to an unlikely friendship between the pair, Stephanie surprised that beneath Scarlett's ditsy, party girl facade is a smart, savvy and ambitious young woman who has overcome her grim background to fight for success. Scarlett and Stephanie's relationship is revealed in a series of detailed flashbacks as she talks with Special Agent McKuras, and we learn about their lives and the people in them. As Stephanie talks, Scarlett emerges as a sympathetic figure, even more so when Stephanie reveals Scarlett developed cancer and died leaving her orphaned son, Jimmy, in Stephanie's care.In the breaks between Stephanie's recounts, McDermid briefly shares the progress on the case by law enforcement, interjecting tension into the storyline as the investigation moves between the US and the UK. While the FBI puts out an Amber alert and reviews airport security footage, Detective Sergeant Nick Nicolaides does some legwork in England. Shifting between the two adds interest, especially when Nick gets a break that seems likely to solve the mystery.McDermid is too skilled an author though for such a neat ending and in a series of shocking twists, Stephanie, returned from the US, and Nick uncover a the shocking truth surrounding Jimmy's abduction. The conclusion is breathtaking and few readers will see it coming.While not as brilliantly executed, comparisons of The Vanishing Point can be made to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. While McDermid is best known for her procedural series, The Vanishing Point is an unusual thriller with an intriguing mystery and a conclusion that will surprise you.
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