Vanishing Act (Magill Book Reviews)
In another time and gender, Jane Whitefield would have lead trains of wagons through the wilderness as pilgrims sought a new destiny in an unknown land. Save for Alaska, however, the day of the independent, self-sufficient settler is long gone. The days when an individual could break the ties between past mistakes and a new future by recourse to the trackless waste are gone. In this most modern of urban existences, the safest refuge is the anonymity of a new existence in public view, and Jane Whitefield offers her services in that regard.
Men and women pursued by predators marital and familial, or a system of jurisprudence unable to provide justice, together or alone, find their way to her door. They enter and vanish from view into a new unsuspected world of safety which frees them from their old fears. Few of these people are angels, but none of them, in Jane’s view, deserves the fate that society seemingly has decreed unless an outside agency intervenes.
Thus, when John Felker appears and relates his tale of woe, Jane provides a sympathetic, yet skeptical, ear. Felker seems reliable, so Jane launches him on a well-worn path to oblivion. Unfortunately, Felker is not the innocent victim of circumstance. He is the proverbial fox in the chicken house, and Jane must rid the world of the monster she has unwittingly aided in pursuit of its prey.
Thomas Perry rarely repeats himself in terms of characters, although his creations are connected in that each maintains a certain distance, if not detachment, from the workaday world. Those familiar with Perry’s work will welcome VANISHING ACT, and others will be pleasantly surprised.
Vanishing Act (Magill Book Reviews)
Jane Whitefield, an American Indian woman from upstate New York, helps people disappear. Women fleeing abusive spouses, state’s witnesses with reasons to doubt the effectiveness of the U.S. Marshals, and others whose innocence may not be unsullied but who deserve better fates than what their pursuers have planned for them are Jane’s clientele. Jane is savvy about skip tracing, new identities, and the tricks of the cops’ and robbers’ trades. Cynical and hardened as every good suspense novel’s protagonist needs to be, she also has a feminine, mystical side. She gives offerings to her Native American spirit friends and follows the advice that her dreams give her. Her feminine, Indian, and noncynical side gets her into her greatest danger and leads her to her greatest triumph when a handsome man in a lot of trouble comes to her for help.
The trouble began years before, with the murder of all but one of the participants in a private high-stakes poker game. The killers were pros and were not caught, and it remains a mystery whether they were simply after the money, which they took, or whether they were under orders to kill, under the cover of the robbery, a mobster who was there playing poker. The fate of the surviving witness, who understandably harbors a strong urge to stay silent and unnoticed, complicates things further. This complication is the past story that sets Jane’s present story in motion. The plot is logical and consistent, a welcome change from the plots of thrillers on film.
Of greater interest are the book’s details. Perry has done considerably homework on two fascinating worlds. One is that of police, professional criminals, private detectives, skip tracers, bounty hunters, and fugitives. This world works by very different rules than that of most people, who leave wide trails of receipts, public records, and regular habits. The other world is that of the Native Americans who live around the Adirondacks. These tribes’ culture and woodcraft are still as impressive as they were when Benjamin Franklin shamed his people by pointing out that if the “barbaric” five tribes could have a working constitutional democracy, then perhaps the whites could too. Jane’s knowledge of how to live in the woods is engrossing for those who rarely stray far from the city.