Posts Tagged ‘serial disappearances’

THE VANISHING SEASON by Joanna Schaffhausen: Book Review

In a mystery novel, it’s usually the killer or the victim who has a hidden background, a secret so traumatic that it must be kept from others at any cost.  In The Vanishing Season, police officer Ellery Hathaway was the subject of national news coverage when she was a teenager, and she is determined that no one will now connect her with that traumatic episode in her past.

Not many serious crimes take place in the small town of Woodbury, Massachusetts.  Burglaries, vandalism, shoplifting–these are the things that the eight-person force (seven men and Ellery) deal with on a daily basis.  Except that for each of the past three years, a person from Woodbury went missing during the month of July and was never seen again.

Ellery is the only officer who believes there is a pattern to these disappearances.  To everyone else including her married lover, chief of police Sam Parker, there is no case.  “People leave their lives all the time and don’t look back,” he tells her.

On the surface, Sam appears correct.  The three missing people–a college student, the town’s mail carrier, a woman with a history of drunk driving–seem to have nothing in common.  But to Ellery, who had her own nearly fatal experience of being taken from her home and almost killed, there is a connection, a relationship between these three people that she believes cost them their lives.  All she has to do is find it.

At the age of fourteen, Abigail Ellery Hathaway was abducted and held for three days by a serial killer who previously had taken, raped, and mutilated several young girls before murdering them.  It was FBI Agent Reed Markham who found Abby, hidden in a closet in the killer’s apartment, and who apprehended Francis Coben, the man who is currently serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison for his crimes.

Now using her middle name as her first name, Ellery contacts Reed in her desperation to have someone on her side as she surreptitiously investigates the missing persons case.  The two have not been in touch in more than a decade, but at the time Reed rescued Ellery he told her that if she ever needed anything she could call him.  And so she does.

Ellery Hathaway is a woman who has mostly overcome her past, although the physical scars inflicted on her by Coben are a visible daily reminder of that harrowing episode in her life.  But faced with the intransigence of the town’s police department, she decides to conduct her own off-the-books investigation, hoping that she might be in time either to find one or more of the three people who have disappeared or else to prevent another disappearance.  After all, it’s already July 2nd.

The Vanishing Season is a taut, compelling story of a woman’s fight to do what she believes is right in the face of the apathy and indifference of her fellow officers.  Ellery is flawed, fearful, and yet absolutely determined to follow her instincts and find out who is behind the disappearances in Woodbury.  She is a protagonist to admire.

You can read more about Joanna Schafflausen at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.