Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. I’m particularly pleased about this edition because it’s a’by-request’ spotlight. It’s always a real pleasure to have you let me know what you’d like to see spotlighted, so if there is a book you want to see here, please do contact me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) and I’ll do my best.
Today’s spotlight is on the work of Tess Gerritsen, whose Jane Rizzoli/Maura Isles series has been consistently popular. It’s about time this feature included one of her novels. So let’s take a closer look at Vanish, the fifth Rizzoli/Isles novel.
After a brief introductory chapter, the story follows Boston medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles as she prepares to end her workday. She’s just about to lock up and leave when she thinks she hears a noise. She traces the sound to one of the body bags, unzips the bag and discovers to her shock that the young woman inside is alive. Isles gives the alarm and the woman is rushed as quickly as possible to the hospital across the street. The only thing that’s known about her is that the police had taken her body out of Hingham Bay, where they’d pronounced her dead.
To everyone’s further shock, the young woman, who is unidentified, recovers quickly and rushes out of her hospital room after killing a security guard. Now armed, she goes to the hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging department, where she takes a group of people hostage. That group includes Boston PD’s Jane Rizzoli, who is overdue to give birth. She was sent to Diagnostic Imaging for a sonogram and arrived just before the hostage-taker did. Rizzoli’s obstetrician, Dr. Stephanie Tam, is also among the hostages.
The Boston PD, a SWAT team, and other groups now have to plan a strategy to find out what the hostage-taker wants and try to rescue those in danger. Matters are made more delicate because Rizzoli is a police officer. Everyone’s afraid that if it’s revealed that she is a cop, she will be in that much more danger. The intrusive media makes the job of keeping that fact quiet all the more difficult. It doesn’t help, either, that no-one seems to know who the young woman is or why she’s taken hostages.
It soon becomes clear, too, that this hostage situation has far-reaching implications. The FBI get involved and insist on taking control of the case. And even Rizzoli’s husband, FBI Agent Gabriel Dean, doesn’t exactly know why. Still, he, Isles and Rizzoli’s police partner Barry Frost work together to try to get answers before anyone else is killed.
In the meantime, we follow another plot line. This one concerns seventeen-year-old Mila, who left her home in Belarus with her friend Anja. They were lured with promises of jobs and a better life in the United States, but to say the least, things haven’t worked out as planned. Little by little, the two plots unfold and we find out how they are related (and no, it’s not as obvious as you might think). It turns out that one cryptic phrase that Rizzoli hears is the key to finding out the truth.
One of the important elements in this novel is the level of suspense. The tension is built in several ways. One is, of course, the hostage situation. From the point of view of both the hostages and those trying to rescue them, we see just how desperate such an emergency can be. There is a real possibility that people will be killed, and everyone knows it. Along with this is that we get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at what various US police agencies do when there is a hostage crisis.
The tension is also built as the rescue team gradually learns the truth behind what’s happened. It isn’t really clear who can be trusted and who can’t. And those who can’t be trusted are powerful and wealthy enough to cover up what they don’t want revealed. There’s a real sense too that for certain people, individual lives do not matter.
Another element in the novel is the unflinching look we get at human trafficking and sex slavery. People don’t like to think of those things happening in the United States, but they happen everywhere. It is ugly and horrific, and readers who are put off by that topic will notice that Gerritson doesn’t gloss over it at all. There is a great deal of sadness in the story because of this, as well as real violence. Readers who prefer lighter novels will notice this.
The story unfolds from two points of view. One, told in the present tense (first person), is Mila’s story. The other, told in the past tense (third person) details the hostage crisis, what comes before it, and what its consequences are. Readers who dislike multiple points of view will notice this. That said though, Gerritsen makes it clear which thread of the plot is being followed at any given time.
Another element in the novel is the look readers get at the connections among some of the highly-placed people in various government and police agencies. These groups don’t operate completely independently, and there’s definitely what’s often called ‘the old boys network.’ Those connections are international too, and they play a role in the novel.
There is a great deal of action in the novel as the two plot threads evolve. Readers who enjoy a fast pace with FBI agents, police, and conspiracy will appreciate that. Those who like ‘down time’ in a novel will notice that there isn’t much of it here. At the same time, readers do get glimpses of Rizzoli and Dean’s home life as well.
The solution to the mystery – the starting point for it – is very sad. And finding out the truth doesn’t put everything right again. That said though, there are some characters who are ‘on the side of the angels’ as the saying goes. And for some of the characters it’s clear that life will go on and even be good.
Vanish tells two stories that approach the same incident from two different angles. It features sleuths who’ve become extremely popular, and takes a painful look at the terrible reality of the consequences of human trafficking. But what’s your view? Have you read Vanish? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 15 December/Tuesday 16 December – Snatch – Bill Pronzini
Monday 22 December/Tuesday 23 December – Malicious Intent – Kathryn Fox
Monday 29 December/Tuesday 30 December – Mercy – Jussi Adler-Olsen