Stephanie Harker is travelling through the security gates at O’Hare airport, on her way to an idyllic holiday. Five-year-old Jimmy goes through the metal detector ahead of her. But then, in panic and disbelief, Stephanie watches as a uniformed agent leads her boy away – and she’s stuck the other side of Security, hysterical with worry. The authorities, unaware of Jimmy’s existence, just see a woman behaving erratically; Stephanie is brutally wrestled to the ground and blasted with a taser gun to restrain her. And by the time she can tell them what has happened, Jimmy is long gone. But as Stephanie tells her story to the FBI, it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems with this seemingly normal family. What is Jimmy’s background? Why would someone want to abduct him? And, with time running out, how can Stephanie get him back?
Right- so you read the synopsis of the book and think this sounds intriguing and what an excellent premise for a crime novel. Now excuse me if I’ve missed the point but what follows an initially promising first couple of chapters is an absolute flight of fancy and I think McDermid is just playing with her readers a wee bit! I like to think that McDermid had her tongue very firmly planted in her cheek throughout the writing of the book as she shamelessly draws on the most nauseating aspects of ‘reality TV’ spawned celebrity with its attendant bad behaviour, press manipulation, ill gotten gains and the role of the ghostwriter in presenting a more acceptable version of these hideous people to their adoring public. The book centres on Scarlet Higgins, a Northern working class girl who comes to fame on reality TV show ‘The Goldfish Bowl’ ( a blatant hybrid of ‘Castaway’ and ‘Survivor’) despite her ill-behaviour, racist outpourings (counterbalanced nicely by her later relationship with an Asian DJ) and generally lewd behaviour. Desperate to raise her public profile the hapless and incredibly naive Stephanie Harker-ghostwriter- is commissioned to write a book about the now pregnant Scarlet as a missive to her unborn child and Harker finds herself drawn into the duplicitous world of the scheming Scarlet. This is where it all goes a bit silly with a frankly ludicrous story line involving a Scarlet-impersonating cousin, a Romanian orphanage, a half-baked stalker and all manner of other silliness involving the FBI, a positively Greek Adonis of a policeman and eventually a murder which comes way too late in the plot to have any impact at all.
But, and I stress this very clearly, as unbelievable and irritating as the whole thing is you can’t help being compelled to just read a few more pages, then a few more until before you know it you’ve read the whole book, and despite not having believed a word of it you realise you’ve had fun on the way, such is McDermid’s portrayal of a world of celebrity culture you recognise all too well backed up by an improbable but incredibly entertaining plot! So bad that quite frankly it’s brilliant…
‘The Vanishing Point’ is published by Little Brown 13th September
Visit Val McDermid’s website here: http://www.valmcdermid.com/
(Thanks to Little Brown for the advance reading copy)
Read Maxine’s review at: Petrona.