The Vanishing Season
by Joanna Schaffhausen
December 5, 2017
e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Minotaur Books
Summary: Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but not through her police training. She’s an officer in sleepy Woodbury, MA, where a bicycle theft still makes the newspapers. No one there knows she was once victim number seventeen in the grisly story of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. The only victim who lived.
When three people disappear from her town in three years, all around her birthday—the day she was kidnapped so long ago—Ellery fears someone knows her secret. Someone very dangerous. Her superiors dismiss her concerns, but Ellery knows the vanishing season is coming and anyone could be next. She contacts the one man she knows will believe her: the FBI agent who saved her from a killer’s closet all those years ago.
Agent Reed Markham made his name and fame on the back of the Coben case, but his fortunes have since turned. His marriage is in shambles, his bosses think he’s washed up, and worst of all, he blew a major investigation. When Ellery calls him, he can’t help but wonder: sure, he rescued her, but was she ever truly saved? His greatest triumph is Ellery’s waking nightmare, and now both of them are about to be sucked into the past, back to the case that made them…with a killer who can’t let go.
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Fourteen years ago Francis Coben terrorized the nation as girl after girl went missing. When the bodies began turning up, it was clear Francis was more than your run-of-the-mill twisted killer. The man was sick: after torturing the girls he would cut off their hands as keepsakes – and what he did with those hands was too disturbing for even the media to disclose. So when 14-year-old Abby Hathaway was taken one night, it was a race against the clock to find her. But find her one young agent did and overnight the pair became famous: Reed for being the rescuer (and later went on the write a runaway bestseller detailing the crime) and Abby, the sole survivor.
A decade and a half later, Abby – now Ellery – has taken on a new life away from the place she called home. Now a police officer, Ellie avoids any talk of her past, playing off her scars as the result of a childhood bike accident and disregarding her birthday altogether. However, with three new girls now missing, Ellie believes there may be a copycat killer at work, though she can’t get anyone to believe her – until she pays a call to an old FBI agent from her past. Reed is the only one who knows Ellie’s true identity, he’s the only one who believes her suspicions, especially after she shows him a secret stash of birthday cards she’s been receiving: Ellery was kidnapped on her birthday and has made a point of never divulging the date to anyone in her new town. Whoever has been sending the cards not only knows who she is, but also knows where she lives. It isn’t until Ellery receives a gift-wrapped present – a severed hand – that the Woodbury PD finally realize Ellie’s theories may actually hold some truth.
Although The Vanishing Season is less than 300 pages, it packs a HUGE punch and I was glued to the page. Ellery’s determination to run from her past, her insistence that the missing person cases are linked – and frustration at not being believed, the vulnerability that’s revealed once the new (??) killer makes their presence known and every inch of her home is inspected, I simply couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. On the surface Ellie seems cold and closed-off, not interested in forging relationships or getting to know her fellow officers. She has a dog and has a friendly relationship with the guy who runs the shelter, but that’s as far as buddy goes. It isn’t until Reed enters her home that he discovers the nailed-shut closets. Every single one. For days Ellie was held in a pitch black closet, only let out for another of Francis’s unspeakable acts. Fourteen years later she’s still carrying that with her.
Reed didn’t fare that well either and, though not physical like Ellie’s, he’s still baring scars from the past. Once the star rookie agent with a book deal, Reed soon gave more of himself to his work than to his family and, while technically still married, he and his wife have separated. He adores his little girl, but he’s struggling to make good on his visitations with her and counseling sessions with his wife. Even worse is that he’s currently on mandatory leave after dropping the ball on a major case. He realized all too late that they had their guy; once he was released he went out and killed a little boy.
Ellery is no longer the terrified teenager, Reed has fallen from grace and a good chunk of The Vanishing Season is watching these two navigate their ideas of who the other was with who they are now. I will say, though, that I am THRILLED the book didn’t stray into romance when it so easily could have. There’s a 13 year age difference, so it’s not like it would have been unthinkable, especially given their past, but the book is all the better for avoiding even a hint of romance.
Clearly this is a book I seriously enjoyed, seeing as how I can’t stop rambling about it, so I’ll try to wrap this up. I avoid spoiler talk in my reviews unless it deals with an animal, specifically dogs. At 93%, during the final showdown, Bump is shot off-screen so to speak, and is assumed dead. I’m happy to say he survives and is well on his way to a full recovery the next time he appears.
The mystery in The Vanishing Season was SO fun (or as fun as severed hands can be) and I truly didn’t want to set the book aside for anything. This was one of those novels where, if I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it and counting down the time until I could return to it (thanks to pesky things like work and sleep – who needs ’em). Looking back, I should have easily pegged the killer since there are so few characters, but I’m glad I didn’t and that I got to sit back and enjoy watching it all play out. I’m both excited and heartbroken that this is Joanna’s debut: I’m thrilled to see what she does next but oh how I would love to be able to read more of her work now!