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Book review: The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid

  • by DOUG JOHNSTONE
 

THE central premise for this standalone thriller is brilliant. While walking through airport security in Chicago, ghostwriter Stephanie sets off the detectors. She tells the five-year-old boy with her to wait as she’s taken to a Perspex box and frisked, only to watch in horror as a uniformed man leads the boy away.

The Vanishing Point

Val McDermid

Little, Brown, £16.99

When she tries to intervene she’s tasered and restrained, winding up in a cell being interrogated while the boy disappears.

It’s no surprise that a writer of McDermid’s experience and skill creates a nerve-shredding opening out of this. The first few chapters of The Vanishing Point are breathtaking and compelling as the reader, along with Stephanie, tries to work out what the hell is going on.

From there McDermid delves deep into Stephanie’s back story, from her relationship with the boy, who is not her biological son, to her interactions with Scarlett, a reality television star in the UK whom Stephanie befriended while ghostwriting her memoirs.

The change of pace from the frantic opening takes a little getting used to, but McDermid does a good job of establishing her cast of characters, from her and Scarlett’s cynical agents to Scarlett’s hapless DJ husband and her own intimidating and overbearing boyfriend.

Everyone is of course viewed through the prism of being a possible suspect in the abduction case, adding an extra frisson of tension to the prose.

Along the way the author has some satirical fun with the worlds of reality television, the media (especially the phone-hacking scandal) and the publishing industry, gently poking away at the vagaries of celebrity culture in the 21st century and the way in which we’re all a little complicit in the celebrity circus.

But for all that that stuff is diverting entertainment, the overarching thriller plotline is always lurking, waiting to pounce on the reader. As you might expect from McDermid, there are plenty of well-executed twists and turns, a few red herrings thrown in for good measure, and a satisfyingly tense climax. «

 
 
 

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