The Vanishing Point
Val McDermid
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Buy *The Vanishing Point* by Val McDermidonline

The Vanishing Point
Val McDermid
Grove Press
416 pages
September 2013
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Mcdermid hits a home run with The Vanishing Point, a transcontinental stand-alone thriller filled with smooth storytelling that skewers the tacky, cutthroat, media-soaked world of reality stardom. The author pulls off an unprecedented trope in a complex plot which takes us from the bustle of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to bucolic Sussex and on to the highlands of Romania. If it’s her intention to explore the hidden elements behind reality star Scarlet Higgins, Mcdermid is more than successful, chillingly recreating the tortured existence of this rags-to-riches girl.

An eerie sense of tension filters through McDermid's story like an owl’s weather-beaten wings--oily yet constant--as the ’s main character, Stephanie Harker, cringes in anticipation. Her life changes in a split second after an unexpected kidnapping that bespeaks a chilling calculation and a targeted move. Amid her rage, fear and her sense of failure, Stephanie is forced to recount her story to a Special Agent at the Chicago Field Office. Presenting two evolving viewpoints--her concern for Jimmy Higgins, Scarlett’s young son, and her job as a literary ghost writer for Scarlett--Stephanie's angst-ridden tone reveals how Scarlett was cast in a tasteless reality show that catapulted her from Yorkshire oblivion into the nation’s living rooms.

The Vanishing Point is about the nature of blind ambition, aspiration and desire. Stubborn, uncertain Scarlett has good reasons not to trust. Part of Stephanie’s deal is to promise to tell Scarlett's story the way it should be told. So begins the portrait of a shrewd, hard-won media star born from being exploited once too often in the past. As Scarlett tells of her alcoholic mother and her junkie father who died of AIDS, Stephanie is taken aback by these revelations that offer a glimpse of someone with surprising flashes of intelligence.

Mcdermid allows us to sink straight into her story of the strange, twisted plan of a woman who had limited prospects, no qualifications, and no obvious escape from a dead-end life she adamantly did not want. Our gut reaction of compassion for Scarlett and Stephanie helps us digest the story’s more far-fetched plot sequences. While the world sees Scarlett as “thick but well-meaning,” Stephanie’s newfound fascination finds yet another layer of ambiguity hidden just beneath the surface. Stephanie doesn't put too much stock in Scarlett’s comment that Joshu, her drug-addled DJ boyfriend, changed everything for her. The notion rings false in the context of someone with Scarlett’s street-smart savoir faire.

From hunky Scotland Yard detective Nick Nicolaides, who assists Stephanie on the volatile trail of the kidnapper, to her boyfriend, Pete Matthews, a bullying control freak and a stalker, to Joshu who gives new meaning to “part-time parenthood," Mcdermid’s characters inhabit a realm of gritty, no-nonsense realism--most particularly Joshu, whose drugs and drinking are at the heart of his agenda. In a story where “the past is never dead, it isn’t even past,” nothing fits the usual parameters--no violence, no ransom demands, no obvious motives. For Stephanie, the shrinking window of opportunity is about to leave a bitter taste in her mouth.

As we witness Scarlett's transformation into a denizen of the high disco life, her mad machinations grow evermore compulsive. Stephanie recognizes the face of evil on her own turf and girds to fight to the death. By the end of the novel, Stephanie accomplishes her mission, however bloodily, discovering her true purpose and finally understanding how those she loves can be blinded by a new kind of cold-hearted ruthlessness.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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