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THE VANISHING POINT
by Val McDermid
Little, Brown, September 2012
448 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1408703211


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A new novel by Val McDermid is always an eagerly anticipated event, and this was no exception, nor did it disappoint, although there were aspects of it that left me uncomfortable.

Stephanie Harker, a ghost writer by profession, is taking a holiday in the USA with five-year-old Jimmy. As she is going through the security checks to enter the country, a metal plate in her leg triggers the detectors and she is detained for checks. Anticipating this problem, she had already told Jimmy to wait for her at the end of the conveyor belt and keep an eye on their belongings. But as Stephanie watches him, a man in the same uniform as the Transport Security Agency operatives who are dealing her approaches Jimmy and, to Stephanie's horror, starts to lead her away. Stephanie panics, but no one listens to her and she is forcibly restrained while the child she loves is abducted.

The opening chapter of THE VANISHING POINT is a text book example of how to get it right. It establishes the characters sufficiently to make you care about them, and then provides bucket loads of tension and conflict as the action really kicks off. Everything that follows is as good. I had initial doubts about the method chosen to cut back to events that took place prior to the opening chapter, but the discussion between Stephanie and the TSA operative interviewing her is skillfully handles and segues seamlessly into the backstory as seen through Stephanie's eyes.

The story of who Jimmy is and how Stephanie came to be connected with him unfolds like watching a combination of a soap opera and a reality TV show. Stephanie has been contracted to ghostwrite the autobiography of Scarlett Higgins, who shot to fame as a result of her appearance on the fictional equivalent of Big Brother. Even on first meeting, Stephanie suspects there is more to the seemingly vapid Scarlett than meets the eye, and their lives soon become entwined in more than a professional relationship.

Despite the fact that I stayed hooked throughout, the books does have its faults. Although the drawing out of information by means of Stephanie's interviews with the TSA was effective, it was also rather clumsy at times, and THE VANISHING POINT relies rather heavily on a somewhat hard to swallow plot device, beloved of many writers including Shakespeare and Plautus, accompanied by a hefty dollop of misdirection in the middle and an ending that strained my belief to breaking point. Overall the book made me uncomfortable as I think it skirted very close to the edge of appropriation in the unmistakable resemblance to the life and death of Jade Goody, a woman who shot to fame in very similar fashion to Scarlett, with other obvious parallels. Despite all that, this is a book that I genuinely found hard to put down. It will almost certainly provoke mixed reactions in readers, but it is none the worse for that.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, October 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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