Vanishing Act (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction) - Essay

Thomas Perry

Vanishing Act (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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.