Joanna Schaffhausen’s first novel, The Vanishing Season,” takes readers into the life of a young woman, Ellery Hathaway, who was kidnapped by a serial killer and was the only person to escape alive. She became a cop and works in a small town in Massachusetts, far from the Chicago neighborhood where she grew up.
Schaffhausen tells Hathaway’s story slowly, and it’s entwined in the story of a current serial killer who is killing one person a year in Hathaway’s town. The problem is that only Hathaway thinks there is a serial killer, while everyone else thinks that three people just happened to disappear in the beginning of July for three consecutive years. That time of year is also the anniversary of when Hathaway was kidnapped on her fourteenth birthday. She has not told anyone about her gruesome past and also doesn’t mention that each year someone has disappeared, she’s received an anonymous birthday card. The birthday card is creepy for two reasons — it’s anonymous, and no one knows her birthday because she doesn’t celebrate it at all.
When the next July rolls around and Hathaway believes that someone else will be kidnapped, she calls the FBI agent who rescued her from the serial killer, Reed Markham. Markham has his own problems, including issues both personal (a divorce and a drinking problem) and professional (a botched case).
The novel is a real page-turner. There are many features that keep the reader’s attention, including the unsolved murders, the slow unfolding of details about Hathaway’s abduction and torture at the hands of the serial killer, and the relationship between Markham and Hathaway. In spite of the fact that Markham saved Hathaway’s life just in time, she lives with the consequences of those three days of torture. The two barely interacted after the rescue and don’t really know each other. Markham also comes to realize that perhaps he became famous because he wrote a book about the serial killer and his rescue of Hathaway. Did he use her horrible abduction and torture for fame and fortune?
Schaffhausen masterfully delves into the mind of a victim of such a heinous act and really makes the reader connect with her. In fact, the reader feels a connection with both the victim and the rescuer and can feel compassion for both. Crime fanatics and mystery lovers will love this story. Schaffhausen really nails the genre and the character development beautifully.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Minotaur Books, for review purposes.