The Vanishing Point opens in an American airport, where British writer Stephanie Harker is about to go through security with her 5-year-old soon-to-be adopted son Jimmy. She knows she’ll be searched—she always sets off the metal detectors, due to the metal plates in her leg from an old car accident. Warning Jimmy to stand right by his belongings and wait for her, she allows security to lead her to a clear plastic cubicle where she can keep an eye on him. As she waits for a female frisker to arrive, she sees a man wearing a cap approach Jimmy—and lead him away by the hand.
The kidnapping is so quick and so understated, and Harker so panicked, that when she bursts out of the cubicle the security agents Taser her, thinking the woman who set off the metal detectors is now launching an attack. By the time the ‘misunderstanding’ is cleared up, Jimmy and the kidnapper are long gone, leaving no trace.
In the absence of physical evidence and witnesses, the FBI needs all the information it can get, and Harker tells all—how she came to be Jimmy’s guardian, who his parents are, who might have a motive to snatch him. The FBI helps Harker mine her past, and Jimmy’s, for leads to the kidnapping, and they end up all pointing one way. But is it the right way?
The Vanishing Point is a fun, unique, original thriller, which touches on the world of tabloid celebrity and explores class stereotyping. The characters are well-realized and sympathetic, and the plotline veers wildly through a maze of unexpected possibilities. The pacing for the last quarter of the book is really quite strange, because of the twists. I enjoyed the surprise, but . . . OK, I realize that I can’t really discuss my reservations without making this blog a complete spoiler, which I don’t want to do. So read it, and let me know what you think, especially about the end! Val McDermid is a consummate writer, and I promise you’ll enjoy the ride.