Hello! Don’t disappear right now, I have a review for you!
This post is my thank you to Titan Books for sending me a review copy of The Vanishing Season.
Title: The Vanishing Season
Author: Joanna Schaffhausen
Date of publication: 2018
Publisher: Titan Books
Number of pages: 380
Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but not through her police training. She’s an officer in sleepy Woodbury, MA, where a bicycle theft still makes the newspapers. No one there knows she was once victim number seventeen in the grisly story of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. The only victim who lived.
When three people disappear from her town in three years, all around her birthday—the day she was kidnapped so long ago—Ellery fears someone knows her secret. Someone very dangerous. Her superiors dismiss her concerns, but Ellery knows the vanishing season is coming and anyone could be next. She contacts the one man she knows will believe her: the FBI agent who saved her from a killer’s closet all those years ago.
Agent Reed Markham made his name and fame on the back of the Coben case, but his fortunes have since turned. His marriage is in shambles, his bosses think he’s washed up, and worst of all, he blew a major investigation. When Ellery calls him, he can’t help but wonder: sure, he rescued her, but was she ever truly saved? His greatest triumph is Ellery’s waking nightmare, and now both of them are about to be sucked into the past, back to the case that made them…with a killer who can’t let go.
The Vanishing Season made me feel I was reading an episode of Criminal Minds.
No, we are not following a super team of expert in all things humanly evil, but the combination of several factors in addition to the smooth and perfectly-balanced pace had me forget I was reading and put me in front of a TV that showed me a wonderfully gripping and awfully chilling story.
Abigail Hathaway’s story.
In our day and time, you can’t escape stories about serial killers. We have movies, TV shows, podcasts, articles about them. Newscasts repeat the same information over and over until the population’s thirst for voyeurism is quenched, parents are scared enough to be more careful with their kids for a while, and everyone is grateful it did not happen to them. One thing has always both fascinated me and made me very, very angry. The victims, or rather, the way they are treated. Can you name the souls taken by Ted Bundy? I can’t. We often hear more about the culprit than about the victims. But, as long as we can get gruesome details to make sure ratings are up, we are fed with what the victims go through, with no care of the consequences this can have on them or their families. Yet … I often find myself wanting to know those details. So basically, I want to know but my conscience makes sure I’m fully aware of the fact I need to respect the victim’s privacy. I feel dirty. I’m a monster!!!
The Vanishing Season allowed me to pry and be at the center of everything. Ellery Hathaway was fourteen when she was abducted by a serial killer. She was the only one of his victims to come out alive. Imagining an innocent teenager in the hands (and my words are chosen on purpose here, read the book to know why!) of a monster like Francis Coben was enough to make me lose all appetite. Never are we given the full account of what happened to Ellery, and because of this, my head went wild! I visualized the terror, the surviving in terrible conditions, convinced you are going to die, the hope you can’t help feeling, the things you hear, see, feel… I get goosebumps just thinking about it again. The author hinted here and there to what Ellery endured both through the voice of Ellery herself but also through Reed Markham, the FBI profiler who saved her from Coben. Their relationship is based on tragedy and a mutual understanding, which is enough for the reader to get the appreciation of why Ellery would call Markham fourteen years later…
Since escaping the monster, Ellery created a new life for herself. She said bye to her first name, Abigail, she moved and she joined the police force. This made me smile, as there is a pattern of victims with the strength and will to make a difference, to be there and prevent other people from living what they have. I felt comfortable with the main character from the beginning. Ellery hasn’t made the best choices in every aspect of her life, but there is a mystery, a bubble of protection around her, a vulnerability balanced with a strong temper that you can’t help but fall for. She refused to be categorized as a victim forever. But the past is coming back to haunt her. Not that it had been far away all those years. There are traces in her present life that show just how much of an impact her abduction and her days as a captive have changed her and nothing will erase those mechanisms. I truly enjoyed learning about her, watching her fight her corner, and go with her guts.
Ellery had thought that living in her small town would give her the chance to do her job without facing the worst atrocities, but she can’t help noticing a pattern when people start disappearing and strange letters are addressed to her. One person a year. One card a year. Not enough to make the chief move a finger, as all missing people had reasons to either move, disappear, or commit suicide. But Ellery knows better and when no one wants to listen, she turns to the only person who knows how important it is to follow your insticts: Reed Markham.
Again, a bit of TV show realism! The little jurisdiction battle was juicy and had me truly thinking I was watching something instead of reading. I love it when a narrative is strong enough to trigger this reaction.
Now … the plot! Linking the past and the present, with the shadow of the horrendous events that happened fourteen years ago, was perfect to build tension while letting the reader discover all the cards in the deck. Yes, Ellery survived a traumatic event and now seems to be a good cop, but is she? Doesn’t this kind of experience make you more paranoid and therefore ready to raise the alarm for nothing? Just how much of her is tainted by what happened?
Reed Markham, the ace in the packet. FBI … on leave! I noticed a few details in his life you often hear about, especially in demanding positions like the Behavioral Analysis Unit. I won’t say too much but in spite of being given regularly used traits of an agent’s life, it felt familiar enough to feel true and I appreciated the consistency of his storyline. Being torn between work and family is part of the job, as they say. It helped making Reed look nicer, more human, and definitely cuter. I can’t help but fall for the nice guys. As long as they are on the nice guys’ team!
The police force of the little town Ellery settled in reminds us that not every place in the US, or anywhere for that matter, has CSI teams ready at all times and super labs, SWAT teams and all the necessary money and stuff to catch the big fish. Still, having a small team around Ellery and witnessing her trying to win her case was a great way to connect with her, and a good reminder of how to fully fit in a place.
Half the novel focuses on disappearances that the police force, or rather Ellery’s chef, don’t see as ongoing cases, and allows the reader to take in all the characters, their flaws, their lies, their lives. I enjoyed the slow pace and the mystery around the main characters. Then, as if someone had put gas in the tank, the novel changes gear and hands are in the air… (again, I am being funny, read the book to know why). I felt worry creep in, I rooted for Ellery, and I hoped for the best as the emotional strain was trying to break me, and Ellery! A new disappearance, too close to home, and the town turned into a hive of activity with the ominous cloud turning into a bloody pouring rain, leaving no one unscathed.
I had a gut-feeling about halfway through the novel and I was pleased to learn I was right. Well, pleased is NOT the word, but relieved my paranoid side and my bad guys radar are still perfectly tuned! My blood still ran cold when masks fell, and events unfolded so fast I was out of breath. A very satisfying crime fiction, indeed!
The Vanishing Season is a compelling read that is devoured in no time. It feeds your brain with the most twisted and sinister scenarios possible and doesn’t let go until you look around and wish for the dark not to come.