I've always been a big Val McDermid fan. Normally she creates compelling characters and stories that make you want to keep reading despite her clunky prose, especially when she gets into the head of truly creepy psychopaths. In The Vanishing Point, however, the characters never feel like more than stereotypes (the d.j. "playah" from an Indian family, the smarter than she appears reality contestant, the hunky cop, the whip-smart journalist, the possessive musician, the smart foreign housekeeper).
Worse, the book isn't sure what it wants to be -- a mystery, an examination of reality show fame, or an argument against domestic violence. The three strands never really come together. In form, the book starts out as a mystery, with the kidnapping of a child at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, in a scene that's never really convincing. At first, the kidnapping seems to be merely a framing device for the woman the child is taken from, who's been raising the child since the death of his reality t.v. contestant mother. I knew the story was in trouble the moment the narrator, a ghost writer named Stephanie, opens her description of the FBI agent questioning her with the line "a lazy writer would have made something of..." Is McDermid telling us she's a lazy writer? Given how often she repeats the same word from one line to the next and uses the same expression multiple times within a few pages, I had to conclude that McDermid spent a lot of time working out the plot but very little on the actual writing.
The biggest problem with the book for me, however, was that the resolution of the mystery was obvious less than halfway through, and the writing and characters weren't strong enough to carry me to the end with any degree of interest after I'd figured it out.
I was excited to read new Val McDermid, but if this had been my first book of hers it probably would have been my last. She can do so much better.