The Vanishing is the twenty-fifth JAK novel that I’ve read, so I think it’s fair to say that I’m a fan. Many of her books are DIKs for me, but every once in a while she writes a novel that I feel doesn’t meet her usual standard. This is one of those books.
Our story begins with a murder. Everyone in town knows that the caverns around Fogg Lake often cause hallucinations, so naturally every “self-respecting teen in the small community made it a point to sneak out of the house and spend a night in the caves at least once before graduation”. On the night that Catalina Lark and Olivia LeClair go, they are unexpectedly joined by two strange men from out of town. They hear them coming and are able to avoid them by hiding in a side tunnel, from which vantage point they watch one man murder the other. The girls spend a chilling night hiding from the villain but when they return home and tell their parents and the rest of the community what they saw, no one believes them. The killer had cleared the cavern of evidence and after all, the caves were known to cause hallucinations.
Fifteen years later, Slater Arganbright’s uncle Victor has cost Catalina her job, albeit by accident. He had her consult on a crime scene and a reporter somehow learned she had used psychic abilities to provide the analysis. The result was a social media frenzy that had Catalina labeled a psyche case and a fraud and she was subsequently fired from her position. The negative publicity also brought an end to her relationship with the man she thought she was in love with. All of which is going to make Slater’s job very difficult since he has been tasked with getting Catalina to look over another potential crime scene for their organization, the Foundation. A rival may very well be collecting rare paranormal artifacts and it’s important that they discover if that is indeed the case. Catalina’s powers should make finding the truth easy – or at least easier.
After the fiasco that caused her termination, Catalina and Olivia opened a private investigative firm called Lark and LeClair.
Their business model was based on targeting a niche market – smart, savvy people who knew that it was a good idea to take a second look at a potential spouse who looked like Mr. Perfect, a charming investment counselor who promised you a steady return of twenty percent on your money or a long lost relative who showed up just in time to get himself into your will.
They rely heavily on the paranormal gifts they received simply by being born in Fogg Lake – visions of the future, and what they call their “other sight” (an ability to read auras) to help solve cases. Catalina might want nothing to do with the Arganbright family after the mess Slater’s uncle caused her but Slater has a feeling their fledgling firm will be very interested in the Arganbright money.
Catalina had a strong intuition that something had happened to her friend the previous evening and she is proven right when Olivia doesn’t show up for work in the morning and a phone call to her new boyfriend reveals that she also failed to appear at his home the night before for an important event. While Catalina is out searching the streets for Olivia, Slater arrives at her office, learns what happened from their assistant and volunteers his aid. Catalina accepts his offer and the two begin their urgent search for the missing woman.
This is the first book in the Fogg Lake series but the information dumps regarding the history of the characters – from Catalina’s job loss, to the incident that caused all the Fogg Lake residents to have paranormal abilities, to the myriad intricacies of the Foundation and its members and their link to Fogg Lake – make it read very much like a later book in the saga. It wasn’t a very promising start and I’m sad to report that things don’t really get better from there.
I have a high level of tolerance for what the author calls “the woo-woo factor”. I’ve been reading science fiction/fantasy since I was in second grade and my first crush was Mr. Spock from Star Trek so you’re unlikely to find a better audience for a romance with paranormal elements. However, there is a way to use those elements well and Ms. Krentz doesn’t manage it here. Slater and Catalina’s skills are a hodge-podge of paranormal senses that work in an erratic manner designed to help the flow of the plot. In other words, their “magic” works when the author has no other way to explain what’s happening and fails when moving to the next step in the narrative needs it to. Another problem I had with this portion of the text was the characters’ bemusement/mockery at the skepticism of those who don’t accept psychics, crystals, and visions as legitimate; it seemed a bit mean spirited.
Which leads me to another problem. Krentz provides us with caricatures rather than characters in this story. Slater and Catalina are defined almost entirely by their psychic abilities. I received no sense of them as individuals, except that they both prefer neutral colors for clothes, and in Catalina’s case, apartment decorating. We aren’t told if they have any food preferences, like particular TV shows, have a caffeine addiction – there is nothing to them but their skills. Being a fan of romantic suspense, I’ve read plenty of road-trip/missing-person-hunt romances and know that isn’t why these two appear so one dimensional. The problem lies with the info-dumps; a large number of the conversations between Catalina and Slater are spent giving the reader the history behind psychic phenomena, Fogg Lake, the Foundation, Vortex etc. As a result, the author doesn’t have time to create characters or build a romantic relationship between them. Catalina marries Slater after a matter of weeks because he’s the first man to give her orgasms, and he’s the first man to give her orgasms because he’s the first one to truly accept her psychic abilities. Slater falls in love with Catalina because she doesn’t think he’s crazy for having had to be locked up for severe hallucinations.
Typically, a novel this poorly constructed would receive a much lower grade but Ms. Krentz is an experienced, skilled author whose smooth, charming prose is laced with touches of humor and whose ability to create an interesting storyline saved The Vanishing from being a complete fiasco. It‘s very readable and even enjoyable if you don’t think about the story and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Die hard fans will probably want to read it, hoping book two in the series is better, though I would recommend getting it from the library rather than paying for it.