The Vanishing Season by Johanna Schaffhausen

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The Vanishing Season by Johanna Schaffhausen

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Denise Ramsay
Reviewed by Denise Ramsay
Summary: A truly spine-tingling thriller that will serve up surprises right to the very end.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: February 2018
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857052636

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Schaffhausen has been garnering a lot of attention for her first crime novel having already been crowned a First Crime Novel Award Winner by the Mystery Writers of America. My interest, therefore, was definitely piqued and I was excited to read this book. So, does it live up to all the hype? In a word: yes. I was gripped from the outset (forgive the terrible pun, we are after all dealing with a serial killer who chops off the hands of his victims to keep as trophies!)

The premise of the book is dark and follows the abduction of a teenage girl who is literally snatched off the streets as she is rides her bike home in the dark. This girl is the seventeenth victim of the serial killer Francis Michael Coben who has a particular and grisly penchant for removing the hands of his victims whilst they're alive and keeping the dismembered digits as trophies and tools for sexual pleasure. Yuck? Indeed. Where the story becomes really interesting however, and more than a serving of gory thrills, is in the fact that unlike the previous sixteen victims, this girl survives.

Fast forward fourteen years and we are introduced to police officer Ellery Hathaway - victim seventeen. Living under an assumed new identity no-one knows the horrors of Ellery's past or that she is in fact the same girl whose face was broadcast around the country as the only survivor of the notorious Coben. Whilst hints and nods are made to Ellery's past, the abduction she suffered is not actually at the heart of the story. Rather, this event is the launch pad for the present day mystery surrounding the disappearances of three locals from her adopted and usually sleepy town. Are these disappearances connected? Strange and anonymous messages being sent to Ellery would suggest that they are. More shocking still is the fact it seems the culprit knows Ellery's real identity and exactly what happened all those years ago.

The story soon evolves into a real cat and mouse thriller. The delight comes in never really being sure who is the cat and who is the mouse. At first glance it seems obvious that the townspeople are the prey and the unknown killer the hunter but we soon come to realise that the real object of the culprit's desire and obsession is Ellery herself. Cue the eerie music. Schaffhausen is brilliant here and provides many a lingering look at Ellery through the eyes of those around her which invites us as the reader to become the voyeur and watch as Ellery is stalked through the rest of the book thus providing an almost unrelenting tension. Relief only comes in the shape of Reed Markham, the FBI agent responsible for Ellery's rescue all those years ago and who she has enlisted to help find out what happened to the missing locals and more importantly find out who is after her now.

Ellery is presented from the outset as a resilient and independent woman with a tenacity unmatched by that of her male counterparts. So, I was at first a little disappointed that Schaffhausen felt the need to bring in a male character to save our leading lady. However, what the author does here is take the traditional theme of a damsel in distress and turn it on its head. We come to realise that it's Reed who is actually in need of rescuing and Ellery will be the one to pull him back from the brink of alcoholism and a depression brought on by years of witnessing unimaginable and unspeakable horrors as an agent of the FBI. I really enjoyed this layer of the story and was further pleased that Schaffhausen resists the temptation to develop a romantic relationship between these two characters. Aside from the fact it would be all to obvious, the absence of physical contact between the two actually provides another layer of tension to the story.

Yes this is a story about a serial killer and yes it supplies all the thrills and spills we would expect from a book of its type but at heart, this is a story of obsession and particularly a story about male obsession in all its forms. From the notorious Coben consumed with lust for his victims (and specifically their hands!), to Reed who has never forgotten the young girl he rescued and who has informed so many of his choices - past and present. This continues right down to Sam, Ellery's superior and lover who resorts to stalking her when she rebuffs him. Ultimately though, it's a tale of a man's obsession with a woman already brutalised by life but who ignites in him a desire for attention, recognition and in the end, ownership.

I had my suspicions about who the culprit may have been and while I may have been proven correct, the denouement was nonetheless satisfying. I don't think I will be giving anything away to say that Schaffhausen leaves one final revelation for the reader at the end which when looking back over the landscape of the story shows just what a clever writer she is. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be looking out for future offerings from Schaffhausen whom I now consider quite a find.

If you enjoyed The Vanishing Season and would like to read similar titles then I would recommend The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer which again follows the obsessive relationship between a killer and his muse. You might also enjoy Kill Me Once by Jon Osborne.

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Buy The Vanishing Season by Johanna Schaffhausen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Season by Johanna Schaffhausen at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Vanishing Season by Johanna Schaffhausen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Season by Johanna Schaffhausen at


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