Book Review: The Vanishing by Wendy Webb
Julia Bishop is left friendless and penniless after her husband is exposed as the “midwestern Bernie Madoff” and then kills himself. Faced with foreclosure, unpaid bills, stalkers, and death threats, Julia’s life is bleak indeed until a stranger shows up with a bizarre proposal: Adrian Sinclair offers Julia a position as companion to his elderly mother, famous author Amaris Sinclair — who supposedly died ten years earlier. If she accepts, Julia will be given a chance to escape her old life and live at Havenwood, a huge mansion in the wilderness of northern Minnesota. She’ll spend her days with the woman who first inspired her to write, and most importantly, she’ll get a fresh start just when her life seems utterly hopeless.
Havenwood is beautiful, elegant, and mysterious. Isolated in the woods, it’s the perfect hideout, but seems to be hiding secrets of its own. Why does everything seem so familiar? Why does Julia keep hearing strange voices? Whose footprints are in the snow? Why is the family so excited about Julia’s arrival? And who is that hot guy out by the stables?
As days go by, Julia realizes that the the strange occurrences at Havenwood may be sinister, and even dangerous. Despite her fondness for the family (and the hot guy in the stables), she suspects that her job offer may have strings attached that are not in her best interest. As the spookiness mounts, the only answers may lie in uncovering the past…
… and that’s about as much synopsis as you’ll get out of me!
The Vanishing sets a tone of gothic mystery and eerie supernatural goings-on, and at the same time tells the story of a seemingly ordinary woman whose life has gotten completely messed up and out of control. Havenwood is beautifully described, and made me yearn for my own wilderness adventure — in a gorgeous mansion, of course!
It’s hard to suspend disbelief throughout the story, as plot pieces begin to mount that don’t quite make sense. Really, Julia is willing to head off to parts unknown with a complete stranger, no cell phones or outside contact allowed? And really, she believes this stranger has just randomly selected her as a trusted companion for his mother because he feels sorry for her? And the instant sparks that fly between Julia and the hot stable guy? (Okay, his name is Drew, and he’s part of the family whose property it is, but still…) I thought insta-love was just a YA plot device!
Granted, a lot of these issues are ameliorated by the unraveling of the central mystery, but those answers come so late in the book that they don’t really outweigh the sheer lack of believability earlier on. Somehow, even though there are answers, I didn’t find them convincing enough to balance out my impatience and incredulity.
What really drove me crazy, though, was Julia’s insistence on behaving like a doomed female character from a horror movie. Oh, the power’s gone out and there might be an intruder? Gee, the hot guy told me to stay in my room and lock the door… so I think I’ll grab a lantern and explore the pitch-black hallways all by myself instead. Hmm, I’ve seen disturbing visions and heard scary noises in the library and east wing? Let me go back there and poke around some more! Just cut it out, Julia, okay?
Overall, as the story delves deeper into the history of Havenwood and its connection to the Spiritualist movement of the 1800s, it becomes both more interesting and more eerie. I enjoyed the use of historical documents and the recaptured memories of a fateful seance, which we first see in the book’s introduction, as well as the sharp contrast of an elegant manor house set in a dangerous and untamed landscape.
I never felt terribly engaged in the love story and had a hard time accepting many of Julia’s actions or beliefs. Still, while some of the plot elements felt far-fetched and not well grounded, The Vanishing held my attention and still managed to deliver a few good chills along the way.
Title: The Vanishing
Author: Wendy Webb
Publication date: January 21, 2014
Genre: Gothic fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Hyperion via NetGalley