THE VANISHING POINT - Val McDermid
It's probably no coincidence that in a genre that, in my mind anyway, is purpose built for looking at the things that don't work in society, I seem to fallen over a few books recently that are exploring the outcomes of Reality stardom. Which is useful as this is about as close as I want to come to any form of reality anything on TV. Val McDermid's latest novel, THE VANISHING POINT, looks at the impacts of reality stardom on a few levels, the perceptions that people have of a certain type of reality star (we're talking the dumb blonde stereotype), but also the sort of impact that the stardom has on a lot of other aspects of life. And, to be fair, McDermid does find the good and the bad in the whole thing.
THE VANISHING POINT uses a sort of detailed flashback scenario - it opens with the snatching of Jimmy Higgins in the present day. His mother, reality star Scarlett has died, and Jimmy's guardian is the ghost writer who worked with her on her biography - Stephanie Harker. The investigation into the disappearance of Jimmy continues in the current day, although most of the heft of the story is back in the past - starting before Jimmy was born. What makes this particular scenario work very well is actually a sort of reverse flashback idea - where the current day is the bit that's dipped in and out of, and the story itself progresses through the past. Which is a cack-handed way of saying that the back story of Scarlett and Stephanie is where the reason for the kidnapping of Jimmy has to have come from.
There's enough fodder in that background to provide lots of possible reasons for Jimmy's kidnapping. Stephanie's relationship with an obsessive, nasty bloke who seriously objects to her friendship with Scarlett for a start. Scarlett's own background from a poor, dysfunctional family, using her Reality TV stint as a springboard out of that, she's actually a lot less of a bimbo than it would initially seem but people have been burned on her fight out. Along the way she's made a lot of money, money that might not be available to Stephanie and Jimmy, but that's not necessarily something your average kidnapper might have thought through. Then there's Jimmy's father's background - a privileged boy who turned his back on his family expectations and sank into a life of drugs and his own form of stardom. Needless to say, there's enough to make you wonder.
Whilst the concentration is very much on the lead up events, there's sufficient action in the current day investigation to keep the reader engaged. The way that the search moves between the FBI and English Detective Nick Nicolaides works well, always providing that look backwards as Nick's past involvement with both Scarlett and Stephanie emerges. As the back story works its way into the present, and Nick and Stephanie pair up to follow the leads, the pace quickens, and a series of revelations strip away the red herrings and draw to a conclusion that frankly, I didn't see coming anywhere.
The aspect that most struck me about THE VANISHING POINT is the two central female characters. Whilst the likelihood of friendship between these two very different women seems highly improbable, when it does emerge it makes enormous sense. Whilst both women face their own particular challenges there's nothing contrived, it's actually a nice reminder that you shouldn't ever judge a book by its cover and that old chestnut about assumptions. I particularly liked the way that was done - not in a preachy or told you so way, but in such a matter of fact, part of the whole story way.
The final interesting coincidence is that there are a few books floating around at the moment that have a kidnapping theme. Not having read them all, it's next to impossible to draw any conclusions or make observations, but for what it's worth McDermid has contributed a fascinating look at the possibilities of fame and fortune, with an edge of ruthlessness. She's also shaken the preconceptions just a little and written an excellent combination of psychological thriller / procedural tie up that actually made my reading time a very rewarding place to be.
Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?
A powerful, grippingly-plotted thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the end, The Vanishing Point showcases McDermid at the height of her talent.