Book review: The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

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Title: The Vanishing Year
Author: Kate Moretti
ISBN: 9781501118432
Pages: 304
Release Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Suspense, Thriller

Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

A “dark, twisty, edge-of-your-seat suspense” (Karen Robards), The Vanishing Year combines the classic sophistication of Ruth Rendell and A.S.A. Harrison with the thoroughly modern flair of Jessica Knoll. Told from the point-of-view of a heroine who is as relatable as she is enigmatic, The Vanishing Year is an unforgettable new novel by a rising star of the genre.

— From Simon & Schuster

I made butternut squash and beef stew the other day according to the recipe by a rather prominent foodie. The idea of golden, sweet squash in delectable broth with rosemary and thyme notes sounded so promising. The bright photos that accompanied the recipe whispered of comfort and warmth on a sunny fall day. I was convinced this dish was going to hit every taste bud in my mouth with salivating intensity… until I actually took the first sip. Oh gosh, was it ever bland.

Such was my experience with The Vanishing Year. Just in my last post I was gushing how much I wanted to be swept away by this new suspense novel. To be fair to the author, I did not think it was bad at all. The main premise was great, the necessary twists and turns were present, the conclusion was logically resolved.  But I was still severely unimpressed by the execution. Below, I’ll try to sum up the main points that did not work for me personally without giving out spoilers.

First of all, I thought the main villain (I cannot type this word seriously without picturing a leering guy in a top hat and a monocle) was rather obvious. His relationship to the main character was downright creepy from the very first chapters. I’m a bit confused whether the author’s intent was to falsely showcase this relationship as desirable, or if she truly thought is was somehow positive. I see this trend in a lot of contemporary books, where an unhealthy or emotionally abusive relationship is portrayed as sexy or goal-worthy, and  I hate it with passion. If Kate Moretti didn’t mean for this character to appeal to the audience, and through his actions wanted to put us on guard from the beginning, then where is the suspense in all of it?

This brings me to the overuse of romance stereotypes in The Vanishing Year. I am not a romance reader, at all, so these particular plot devices really get on my nerves. I find them unrealistic and giving women wrong expectations about love and healthy marriages. I am also less reluctant than most to give into the fantasy of it. Call me a cynic. I understand fully that for  an entirely different audience this book would be a perfect fit. I feel, however, that the cover should have featured a chiseled man in a business suit, with a title containing at least one reference to the size of his bank account, to correctly reflect itself. You know the type – the one that was all over the book shelves after Fifty Shades of Grey got their 15 minutes of fame.

Yes, I found Henry Whittaker a walking cliche. It sort of plays out in favor of the plot in the end, but by the time I got to that point my eyes were rolled almost to the back of my head. Same with the main character – Zoe is quite the standard set for a sympathetic heroine. She is troubled and has dark past. She does some bad things, but has a heart of gold. With her spiky hair and a piercing, she doesn’t conform to the usual pretty girl image. She finds her happily ever after (at least for a while) with a handsome, rich man. She is a Cinderella. There is no complexity, no real substance to these characters, which usually makes or breaks it for me.

And finally – the plot. I think if Moretti keeps at it, she will definitely become a very good suspense author. Her writing is compelling and makes you turn the page, but she needs a little more practice with the masterful tangling of the plot that really sets an excellent mystery apart from the myriad of mediocre ones. Normally when I see first hints to the solution, I eye them suspiciously. I know they will usually take me to the first plot twist, that would end up a red herring all along. Only when the second plot twist comes along, things turn upside down and you go – whoa, – I did not see that coming! This is very hard to pull off and requires a lot of practice, but really makes a difference. It seems that Moretti just stops at her first plot twist, and anyone who really pays attention to the hints would have no problem predicting the outcome.

I was very disappointed to have figured out both the twist and the resolution before they were revealed. The point of a mystery is to be surprised, which did not happen for me in this case. Therefore I could not give this more than 2.5 or 3 stars on Goodreads. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone looking for a well-written light thriller with some romance elements, but to a seasoned mystery reader – not so much.

Purchase from: Book Depository

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