'Vanishing Season': The making of a survivor

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Joanna Shaffhausen, author of "The Vanishing Season."

The Vanishing Season
By Joanna Schaffhausen
Minotaur. 288 pp. $24.99


Reviewed by Oline H. Cogdill


Surviving the physical abuse of violence is, of course, a major challenge, but the emotional trauma can leave even more horrific scars. It's how you manage scars - whether in your heart or etched on your clavicle - that means the difference between victim and survivor, as Ellery Hathaway knows all too well in Joanna Schaffhausen's poignant and gripping debut.

Using the tenets of a police procedural, Schaffhausen delves into the emotional landscape of a young woman whose daily existence is about moving forward and not succumbing to self-pity or even revenge toward the man who wanted to kill her. Choosing to be a survivor is never easy, and Ellery measures every relationship, decision, and action with that in mind in The Vanishing Season.

Ellery was 14 when she was kidnapped and tortured by serial killer Francis Michael Coben, who is now in prison. She became Coben's only victim to survive because FBI profiler Reed Markham was able to figure out Coben's identity and his hiding place. Reed carried out the unconscious teenager, who was not expected to live.

Ellery not only lived but also thrived, changed her name, and reinvented herself as a cop in Woodbury, Mass., where no one knows about her past. But each July for the last three years, a Woodbury resident has disappeared, soon followed by a birthday card sent to Ellery. The police don't see a connection among the missing people, so Ellery contacts Reed to help. Once a rising star in the FBI, Reed is now on leave. Solving these disappearances - and the threat to Ellery - is the kind of case he needs.

Schaffhausen keeps the fresh plot of The Vanishing Season churning without resorting to cliches. Woodbury's eight-person police force - Ellery is the only woman - is more used to handling domestic disturbances, and this case will show each cop's skills, or lack of them. Believable and flawed characters enhance the realistic twists, down to the denouement.

The intriguing Ellery makes for a sturdy heroine who is becoming a tenacious detective. She has become comfortable in her solitude, in which she feels safe, sharing her life with her basset hound, Bump. Friends would want to know only why all her closets are nailed shut.

Schaffhausen is off to a fine start with The Vanishing Season, 2016 winner of the First Crime Novel Competition by Minotaur Books and the Mystery Writers of America's First Crime Novel Award. Ellery should be able to support a long-running series.


This review originally appeared in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.