It’s cold and rainy, and I’ve just finished reading something Literary, so despite all my vows to read the unread, I turned to something known, familiar and guaranteed, the first Jane Whitefield novel, Vanishing Act. Given I’ve already reviewed parts two and three, you mythical readers will already be familiar with the character and premise, but let’s pretend this is our first view of the Native American guide.
A frightened woman, clearly concerned about pursuit, has disembarked from a plane. Unbeknown to her, her pursuer is actually ahead of her, where she doesn’t think of looking. Although she’s tried to change her appearance, her short skirt and expensive, matching bag and shoes give her away. She darts into the bathroom, and emerges wearing a wig and different clothing, but the same accessories. Her pursuer precedes her to the baggage carousel and waits until she scents safety, at the exit, which is where he makes his move – flashing ID he tells her to come with him, and starts to pull her toward the car park. It isn’t until they reach the privacy of the structure, and she starts to fight back, that he realises she may not be as docile as he first thought. He doesn’t suspect she’s a ringer, though, until she snaps his own handcuffs around his wrists.
When Jane arrives home in Deganawida, New York, physically and mentally exhausted from guiding the fleeing woman from her abusive husband, she is less surprised than concerned and irritated to discover a stranger in her home. John Felker, former cop turned accountant, needs help. He’s been set up to look like he embezzled half a million dollars from his bank and he has no other way out. He heard about Jane from a friend, gambler Harry Kemple, who was fleeing the mob after witnessing a hit. Harry’s been safely in hiding for five years now, nobody has a hint where he might be, and that’s what John needs.
Jane agrees to help John with a new identity, but it seems like his hunters are ahead of her every step of the way, forcing Jane to play her trump cards early. Trading of favours from friends and family, Jane arranges a strong false identity for John; while it’s being prepared she takes him to a Senecca reservation, a safe place for them to catch their breath.
John is a good man, trustworthy, sensible and prepared to follow Jane’s directions without question. He’s also scared, seeking reassurance from Jane that she knows what she’s doing and can keep him safe, like she did Harry. During the time they’re together he tries to cross the gap between them by gently flirting with Jane, teasing out her story and giving the reader glimpses into her culture and background. On the second night on the reservation their relationship becomes physical. Leaving John, once his new identity and location are set up, is one of the hardest things Jane has had to do, but for him to be safe everything that connects him with the past has to be left behind.
When Jane arrives in her hometown, before even reaching her driveway, she picks up a handful of papers and discovers that Harry Kemple has been killed in Santa Barbara. After all this time the only way he could have been found is if someone made a mistake – she calls Lew Feng, the document forger, only to discover that he, too, has been killed. If they’ve found Harry and Lew then John can’t be far behind. Jane heads off to save the man she’s come to love.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve so recently read the second and third Jane Whitefield novels, or if it’s more to do with the evolution of the author or the requirements of setting up a series and introducing central characters, but Vanishing Act is less great than its successors. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is still brisk and evolving, the plot pacy and twisted, and the characters finely and comprehensively drawn. But I saw the biggest twist really early on, and was surprised the usually astute Jane couldn’t. Though, granted, I do have the benefit of having read the book before, it was a while ago and the specific plot hadn’t stayed with me as well as the enjoyment of the reading experience did. This is an above average novel for its genre, and an excellent jumping off point for what is an exceptional series. - Alex