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VANISHING GIRLS
by Katia Lief
Harper, June 2012
368 pages
$7.99
ISBN: 0062095048


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A series of crimes occur in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood that the author of VANISHING GIRLS, Katia Lief, seems to know quite well. The street where the murder of a prostitute and the hit-and-run incident which leaves a young girl in critical condition both is just a few blocks from the main character's home. Karin Schaeffer, a young Brooklyn mother with a traumatic past, lives there with her son and her husband, Mac, a private investigator. She is haunted by memories of loss and we are quickly swept into her interior life. When she was a police officer, her first husband and her daughter were both murdered. In addition, she lost another daughter through miscarriage.

The investigation that purports to be at the core of the novel is the hunt for a serial murderer called "The Working Girl Killer." Karin's friend, police officer Billy Staples, is the lead detective on this case. However, he is apparently suffering from post-traumatic stress, as he had to shoot and kill the woman he loved when she tried to kill him. She had turned out to be a liar and a murderer, and their final encounter cost him an eye. Karin is obsessed with helping him and gets involved with things she probably should not because of this. Finding the perpetrator of the killings seems to take a back seat to Karin's other personal issues, including helping the daughter of her nanny—another murder victim--escape from India. Although her previous tragedies are always on her mind, Karin is not a particularly appealing or sympathetic character. She is willful and pushy, somehow getting involved in an investigation from which she should have been barred.

Besides the multiple focuses of the plot, the book has problems with tone and with writing style. It becomes preachy about various issues, including child abuse and forced child marriage. Too often, there are smatterings of description and detail that seem too deep or too much for the rest of the book. The author may spend half a paragraph describing a character's hands, which would be fine if his hands were relevant to anything that happens. But the description is gratuitous, put there because the writer knows how to write like that. Often a reviewer will complain about bad writing, awkward sentences, or lack of detail, but here it is bits of what could be really excellent writing that seem superfluous. Actually, the problem may be that there is a basic issue about what sort of mystery this really is. In the end, VANISHING GIRLS leaves the reader a bit puzzled. What was this really about?

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, July 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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