A Review – Vanish (Day 2)

Conner Hayden: divorced lawyer struggling to relate to his teenaged daughter. Mitch Kent: tattooed mechanic on the eve of proposing to his girlfriend. Helen Krause: aging career woman and lonely ex-model.

Three people with nothing in common — except that each is hiding a secret.

Thunder rumbled louder now, low and sustained. Flashes of lightning lit up the night sky. Conner went to the patio doors.

Something wasn’t right. For one thing, no rain had been predicted in the forecast he’d heard earlier. For another, this storm was rolling in from the east. Off Lake Michigan. The clouds churned and billowed like the black, acrid smoke of a chemical fire. Lightning flashed inside the billows. Long, sustained flashes of multiple hues. Red, amber, and blue.

Conner’s frown deepened. He called back into the house. “Rachel? You see this?”

. . . It rolled over the house. No more than a couple hundred feet.

Conner’s mouth went dry. This was no storm . . .

After a mysterious storm rolls over Chicago, Conner, Mitch, and Helen are forced into an unlikely alliance — for they seem to be the only people left on earth, and something in the shadows is stalking them.

Vanish is tightly plotted, tersely written, and a perfectly typecast addition to the genre of supernatural thrillers. It strikes that balance between clear and obtuse that so effectively keeps hearts racing and minds guessing — and it throws in plenty of twists to keep readers on their toes. Few of these are predictable; some are valuable. (The book’s most disturbing image deserves to linger, both for its courageous depiction of a terrible truth and for its revelation of how carefully we hide our own darkness — but enough about that.)

Pawlik’s characters are sympathetic; I was interested enough in their lives that I might have kept reading even if the supernatural hadn’t invaded, and their struggles with life and faith are real. But as in most thrillers, the plot drives this story. It doesn’t at all surprise me that it came out of a writing course (Vanish won the Operation First Novel 2006 contest, sponsored by Jerry B. Jenkins’s Christian Writers Guild). As I read, I could hear a how-to-write-a-thriller primer sounding in my head: Enter late, leave early. Use cliffhangers. Write short chapters. Hide as much as you reveal. Hooks, twists, catalysts, climaxes, strategic moments of quiet. The book is a testimony to how well these techniques can work. Pawlik uses them all deftly, and I was happy to be sucked along.

And then came the ending. To be honest, I didn’t like it — to me, it was too reminiscent of the old cop-out, “And then I woke up, and it was all a dream.”  I didn’t see it coming for a moment, which considering the genre of the book should have been a good thing — but in this case, I felt cheated.

Now that I know Vanish has a sequel, I’m inclined to be more charitable about the ending — Pawlik has set himself up to do some potentially fascinating things. By itself, Vanish is a delightfully scary, page-turning story with better-than-average insight into human nature, a lot of adrenaline, and a weak ending. If you enjoy thrillers and want a summer read with better theology than Jurassic Park, you may want to check this one out.



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5 responses to “A Review – Vanish (Day 2)”

  1. […] ? ? Nissa ? ? ? John W. Otte ? ? ? Steve Rice ? ? ? Chawna Schroeder ? ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson ? ? ? Steve Trower ? ? ? Fred […]

  2. Elizabeth Avatar

    The last sentence of your review made me smile!

    Seriously, though, I enjoy your insights into books – plots, characters, etc. – even if I haven’t read the book in question.

  3. Rebecca LuElla Miller Avatar

    I thought the ending was earned because all along Conner had those “convulsions” that the others didn’t have. Something was going on with him that was unique. So in the end, I just felt it was an ah-ha moment, with the final pieces falling into place. And I wasn’t so surprised by the supernatural element, though I didn’t “sell out” to the idea. I still thought for the longest time that aliens was a plausible answer to the “who are they” question.

    I thought the end was maybe a little too “explained,” but I forgot about that until just now, so it’s not in my review.


  4. […] ? Chawna Schroeder James Somers Speculative Faith Stephanie Not on the original list ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson Robert Treskillard ? ? Steve Trower ? ? Fred Warren ? Phyllis […]

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