Sent to me by Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 27/02/18
Publisher: Titan Books
Format: Paperback, 416pp
Summed up in a word: Tormenting
Titan Books support so many great thriller writers that it is hard to keep up with them all. I do admit I have been neglecting my suspense reading in favour of SFF and that stops now. The Vanishing Season has reminded me of why I love this genre so much and I am excited to be back in the throws of gritty, unsettling plot-lines with enigmatic and duplicitous characters and vivid and disturbing imagery. The Vanishing Season is Joanna Schaffhausen’s debut novel and it is a cracking effort so check it out as it comes out today! Full review below.
A chilling tale of suspense for fans of Julia Heaberlin. Fourteen years ago, teenager Ellery Hathaway was victim number seventeen in the grisly murder spree of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. She was the only one who lived.
Now Coben is safely behind bars, and Ellery has a new identity in a sleepy town where bike theft makes the newspapers. But each July for the last three years, locals have been disappearing. Then Ellery receives strange messages hinting that the culprit knows exactly what happened to her all those years ago. When she tries to raise the alarm, no one will listen, and terrified she may be next, Ellery must turn to the one person who might believe her story…
Policewoman Ellery Hathaway has always believed that the disappearances in her town are connected and show similarities to the MO of vicious serial killer and ultimate psychopath Francis Coben. Coben abducted girls, abused, killed them and severed their hands as trophies. Ellery knows this case intimately as she was the only victim of Coben’s that lived all those years ago. Ellery has been telling her captain that the missing people have been taken by the same person with no avail. The victims always go missing around Ellery’s birthday and she receives a card in the post. She knows it is Coben but she can’t prove it in her current position. Ellery decides to go above his head and contact an old acquaintance at the FBI.
Reed Markham was the agent that saved Abigail Hathaway from a horrific death. He wrote the book on Ellery’s experience at the hands of a sadist and is the only person who can see the signs that everyone else is missing. Being on leave from the FBI due to a stressful incident, Reed is available to come to town to look into the case. Wanting to help the young girl that he saved (and possibly reigniting his fame), Reed throws himself and his badge into the investigation. Soon after Reed arrives Ellery receives a severed arm in the post and the secrets that Ellery has spent her whole life protect become town news. Coben is safely locked up in prison so they assume a copycat is at large. Ellery’s birthday is coming up in a week, can her and Reed find the killer before he takes another? This case is bringing the spotlight onto Ellery, is this what the killer wants? There are a lot of people, including Reed, who could benefit from this attention.
I thought the plot was impressively competent with enough character development and twists to keep me on my toes. The story is told from both Ellery and Reeds perspective which provides both a subjective and an objective view on events. JS has crafted a well-paced story that switches direction with every big reveal. JS harnessed tension and suspense superbly and though I had a few theories of who the killer was, I was mainly happy to just witness these events play out preparing for a huge reveal. I certainly got what I was waiting for! The Vanishing Season definitely gives you that dreaded sense that someone is watching you in the shadows.
The plot was smart but it would have been nothing without JS’s two strong lead characters. Ellery has been through literal hell and survived. That gives her a unique perspective on life and a coolness that makes her instantly likeable. Hardened but not heartless to her job (the abuse subplot did get to me) Ellery is all about protection. She wants to be able to stop those who have a hold over others and stop injustices. Even when the case is at its hardest she never acts like a victim, she knows Coben is in her head and she is using it to her advantage. Reed starts off believing that he is Ellery’s protector and is unable to believe that Ellery walked away from her trauma whole. As well as investigating the case, Reed begins to look at Ellery a bit closer and begins to fear that she may have actually lost her mind all those years ago. We do also get plenty of insights into Reed’s stress, career and mentality too over the course of the narrative.
It was certainly an interest circumstance to have both lead characters suspecting each other. JS was kind enough to throw in a whole swarm of potential suspects into the mix as well just to throw us off the scent. Joanna Schaffhausen’s writing is sharp, evocative and gritty. She has no qualms with generating skin-crawling imagery and does not spare any details within her crime writing. I am used to these sorts of books but others may not be as prepared. I was pleased to see that, while JS maintains the current trend of modern thrillers, JS maintains the suspense efficiently without invoking cliches or cheesy moments. There is a good balance of chills, reveals and chaos (especially with the media) so I do feel TVS would appeal to vast array of thriller lovers.
I have to say that JS’s work is not ground-breaking in any way but it is certainly remarkable. I thought that JS explores some important themes here such as how much the law is broken when it comes to certain cases (abuse for one). How sexism is still as common as ever is law enforcement (among many other fields). How trauma is not fatal and with work and understanding more people can come back from the brink of hell. And how much we still don’t truly know about serial killers and psychopaths. I really didn’t have many issues with the writing, the characters or the story. It could be deemed by some readers as a tad overloaded with suspects but I actually really liked that aspect. The duration wasn’t too long or too short. Some of the characters were extra strength slimy but that also works well with the books direction. I am going to be be sat here for a while before I think of something critical which shows how much I enjoyed the novel.
The Vanishing Season is a high intensity suspense thriller that shows everyone that just because have been victims in the past, it does not define them as one forever. I highly recommend this to all thriller and suspense readers, especially those who can stomach the grittier end of the crime scale. This Joanna Schaffhausen’s debut novel and I certainly hope there are many more to come.
About Joanna Schaffhausen
Joanna Schaffhausen is a scientific editor who previously worked as an editorial producer for ABC News, where she advised and wrote for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. The Vanishing Season is her first novel.