Book Review (ARC): The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen

This is an elegant and gruesome beginning to what looks to be a promising series by Joanna Schaffhausen. Although the plot itself isn’t the most surprising, the prose is lovely – there are enough singular touches, character developments and imaginative turns-of-phrase to hit my thriller sweet spot.

Ellery Hathaway is a great heroine. Scarred both physically and emotionally from being the last “victim” / survivor of a particularly brutal serial killer, Ellery has changed her name, joined a small police force, adopted an adorable dog and is fighting to not only move on from her past, but learn from it. Three people have disappeared in the town where Ellery lives – and they’ve all vanished in the first week of July, year after year. It’s too much of a coincidence for the young police officer, but neither her superior nor her colleagues believe there’s enough to raise an investigation, so Ellery goes looking for help elsewhere.

That help comes in the form of Reed Markham, the FBI agent who found Ellery in the killer’s blood-streaked closet all those years ago. Washed up and battle-scarred, Reed is wary of getting involved, but helpless to stay away. When he arrives, it becomes clear that the vanishing season is only just beginning…

As I said above, this is lovely, atmospheric, tense and kinda gross, which I appreciate. Endless ickiness is one thing, and gets exhausting, but when authors are just merrily going along and then hit you with the truth of the matter (ie: farm tools), it’s like a sledgehammer to the gut, and it’s hugely effective. Schaffhausen is excellent at these kinds of moments, and it provides a real darkness that underpins the story.

Even when you’re marveling at how damn cute Ellery’s dog is, you can just feel that rotten river, flowing beneath, sucking all the light in its path.

By the way, her dog lives.

As all good dogs should.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

Book Review (ARC): Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner

Here’s the thing about Solving Cadence Moore – my belief is that people will either love it, or really hate it. I’m somewhere in the middle. While it wasn’t my favourite read this year, I think the author has talent and imagination, and I almost wish someone had cut this novel to pieces and told him to re-write it from the vast edits. Something tells me that Sterner has never heard Stephen King’s “kill your darlings” advice. The book is bloated in length, consistently repetitive, and with a huge amount of extraneous bracketed information that didn’t add anything to the tale.

Further, I don’t think the synopsis helps – it’s killer, and it’s very tough for the book to live up to its promise.

Sterner was clearly inspired by the true-crime story of Maura Murray, who disappeared over 15 years ago on a snowy road in New Hampshire, late at night, alone, with a broken-down car and booze in the backseat. Murray has never been found, and the theories are a tangled, wild mess. Did she run away to Canada? Did she have the colossal bad luck as to encounter a serial killer or rapist on that backwoods road? Was she fighting with her family? Did she die of exposure? Why did she lie to so many people before she vanished? And so on, and so on, for fifteen years. The wondering, the questions, the articles and books, and still at the centre, a person-shaped mark. A blot on the landscape. We still don’t know what happened to Maura, and that seems like an unlivable thing.

How could a person just disappear?

Charlie Marx asks that question on his podcast, over and over. Desperate to solve the mystery of Cadence Moore, a young lady who vanished years before, and emboldened by the recent interest in the case due to a blockbuster movie, Marx takes on the challenge to finally, 100%, tell the world what happened to her. On air.

If he’s successful: instant fame, fortune, notoriety. If he’s unsuccessful, it’s the end of the road. Notoriety of a different kind. And so Marx decides to do it. Try and solve Cadence. Much of the novel is written as if we’re listening to Marx on the radio. I’m not sure this lends itself well. There’s just so much vocalizing – so much information and chatter. When you spend your time reading text that mirrors how people actually talk, it’s amazing how much blather there is. It’s frankly exhausting, and I wished for an Editor as I’ve never wished for one before.

Still, the mystery of Cadence is intriguing. I wanted to know much more about her, though I think that’s the point. I also want to know so much about Maura Murray, because the very fact of her disappearance is what makes her fascinating. Because that person is not there to answer questions, the answers are tantalizingly out of reach. I think that’s what Sterner is getting at here – in some ways, we can only know Cadence through the recollections and memories of others. She will forever remain a question mark in the truest sense of the phrase – because she is no longer there to put a voice to her innermost thoughts, motivations or reasonings. Much as we cannot ask Maura why she was traveling with open alcohol and had lied about leaving school, we also cannot ask Cadence Moore about her dreams or aspirations or fears.

Those answers vanish along with the person, into the dark.

In the end, I think this book has a lot of promise, but as I said, a brutal edit would be needed before this lived up to its synopsis. This is Gregory Sterner’s debut novel, so I think there’s obviously so much room for him to grow as a writer – maybe he’ll come back to this someday and “kill his darlings”! Either way, I look forward to exploring his future work because I think the premise of this book is stellar, and the imaginative way its told bodes well for Sterner’s career.

Thank you to Kelsey from Book Publicity Services and to the author, for the complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I appreciate it!