Marcia Muller just keeps churning mysteries out, and they remain intriguing and engaging. Of her Sharon McCone mystery series, Vanishing Point is the 24th. Cape Perdido came out last year, and also last year, Muller won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America at the annual Edgar Awards banquet. She continues to be a bestselling author. Unlike some mystery writers who produce a long-lasting series, hers do not deteriorate in quality as they multiply.
The biggest surprise in this novel? Yes, believe it or not, McCone and Hy, her long-time fascinating boyfriend – a pilot, also a private investigator - get married. Who would have thought? But as they are not exactly your typical middle-class couple, they do not exchange rings and continue to own three homes together, should either need a quiet, alone space.
Several quiet, alone spaces are at the center of this new novel. McCone is hired to investigate the disappearance and/or death of a mother some twenty years ago. Laurel Greenwood, a housewife and artist, vanished into thin air when her two daughters were young, and she had kept a small studio space in which to get away from family and to paint. Her daughter, Jennifer, has become obsessed with finding out what happened to her mother, as the case was never solved. “So what had happened to Laurel Greenwood?” wonders McCone. “Kidnapping? There had been no attempt to collect a ransom. Foul play or suicide? Quite possible. The bodies of many victims of violent crimes – both inflicted by others or themselves – are never found. Voluntary disappearance? Again, possible… Laurel Greenwood could have had a secret life apart from them, one she’d finally decided to disappear into – or one that had claimed her life.”
Not surprisingly, Jennifer also rents a quiet, alone space unbeknownst to her husband, the rich and somewhat overbearing Mark Aldin, a financial guru much older than his wife. Not only is a woman’s mysterious disappearance in question here, but also two marriages and their secrets are worth further investigation. Then another woman disappears. With all the marriage troubles surrounding the case, McCone hopes she has made the right decision to tie the knot.
As always, Muller keeps the reader involved with her characters, wishing them well and wanting them to find out the truth whenever possible. Now, as the manager of her own investigative firm, McCone is conscientious with her employees - fair, open-minded, and tough when she must be. Even though both she and Hy are prickly types, they are affectionate, committed, and, overall, glad they have married. Also, as always, Muller’s dialogue is fast-paced and authentic.
Muller is often called the “founding mother of the hardboiled contemporary female private investigator.” Although I’ve never considered McCone hard or cold (the image one gets of "hardboiled"), she is gutsy and good with a gun, if need be. In her private life, Muller is married to a writer, Bill Pronzini, and the couple has collaborated on several novels and anthologies. They even write mysteries together.
Marcia Muller’s books always come highly recommended. However, if you’ve never read them, best to start as early as possible in the series, as McCone’s life, professionally and romantically, has changed quite dramatically. And try some of the earlier ones written by the couple; they are engaging and amazingly seamless.