Nailed It

A new rash of killings reunites a victim and her savior


The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen 
Published by Minotaur Books, 274 pages, $25

Abby Hathaway is the only one of serial killer Francis Coben’s 17 victims who lived, but her true identity didn’t survive the harrowing experience. After escaping, Abby changes her name to Ellery, becomes a police officer and tries to keep her sorrowful history a secret in local author Joanna Schaffhausen’s debut novel, The Vanishing Season. The man who saves her, FBI agent Reed Markham, is now embroiled in a career kerfuffle. He reunites with Ellery after a possible copycat has killed three people, his signature cutting off the victims’ hands and displaying them like morbid hitchhikers minus their bodies. Ellery’s more interested in solving this tragedy than her fellow cops; even her married co-worker, Sam, with whom she’s having a casual affair takes an irritated attitude toward her mission and concern. Schaffhausen’s stance toward her characters carries a sophisticated air and, despite all the suspense and bloody terrors she describes, she adds subtlety and complexity to the plot. There’s also a nice mix of psychological ingredients: Ellery, given her past, has nailed her own closets shut, and when those closets are discovered, suspicion hovers around her. But the investigation continues as Reed and Ellery, with their unusual common bond, work together to solve the new murders. The hair-raising story flows along, examining a number of relationships and angles before arriving at a surprising truth.

From Page 229: “Reed looked at her profile and swallowed back a surge of emotion, of tenderness and pride and a flicker of something baser, a sudden heat at his center that tinged his thoughts with shame. He’d rescued her as a girl when he’d known nothing more about her than the statistics listed on the missing persons poster. Now she was a grown woman, insightful and infuriating, with just a bunch of nails keeping the worst of her past at bay, and suddenly he was fiercely grateful for her. He wished she could see how remarkable she really was.” 

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