Genre: Adult, Mystery, Gothic Fiction, Thriller Publication.Date January 21st 2014 Pages: 304 Published By: Hyperion Author Wendy Webb The Vanishing on Goodreads My review copy: Received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Recently widowed and rendered penniless by her Ponzi-scheming husband, Julia Bishop is eager to start anew. So when a stranger appears on her doorstep with a job offer, she finds herself accepting the mysterious yet unique position: caretaker to his mother, Amaris Sinclair, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist whom Julia has always admired…and who the world believes is dead.
When she arrives at the Sinclairs' enormous estate on Lake Superior, Julia begins to suspect that there may be sinister undercurrents to her "too-good-to-be-true" position. As Julia delves into the reasons of why Amaris chose to abandon her successful writing career and withdraw from the public eye, her search leads to unsettling connections to her own family tree, making her wonder why she really was invited to Havenwood in the first place, and what monstrous secrets are still held prisoner within its walls.
Vanishing, dropping out of sight - the very idea of it seemed utterly peaceful after the chaos that my life had become.
How did I find myself living at Havenwood, a place I hadn't even known existed the day before I arrived there? The answer is it found me.
I realized, as I sat there eating my breakfast with these two relative strangers, that my life, on that morning, was completely different from what it had been the morning before. What my future held, I had no idea. But I knew one thing for sure: I was here at Havenwood to stay.
The Vanishing is quite a treat for fans of Gothic Fiction and ghost stories. It's a story full of twists - some foreseeable and a bit cliched, others completely breathtaking and mind-blowing. Entertaining, fast-paced and unputdownable, it's a perfect book for a long Winter afternoon with a steamy cup of tea.
When Julia's husband dies, she finds herself in a bit of a pickle. Not only because she lost someone she trusted and cared about deeply, but because that someone turned out to be a con artist, who scammed a lot of people out of their life savings, including their close friends. Rendered broke and friendless, she is so eager to escape the ruins of her life and start afresh, she doesn't think twice before accepting a job offer from a mysterious stranger. A stranger who turns out to be the son of Amaris Sinclair, famous novelist who faked her own death. Hired as a live-in caretaker, Julia moves in to Havenwood and as she learns about the mansion's history and her own connection to it, she begins to question why she was offered her position in the first place.
I really loved all the Gothic elements in this novel. Wendy Webb did a marvellous job setting the atmosphere and evoking the feel of the secluded, mysterious estate. The setting of The Vanishing plays a huge role in the story and is quite a character in itself. The enormous old mansion located at the Lake Superior, in the middle of wilderness, makes for a fantastic backdrop to this sinister ghost story. And its intimidating size and confusing layout only add to the suffocating feeling of being completely isolated, vulnerable and trapped. One thing I particularly loved about the Havenwood mansion was the huge, 3 storey tall library, stacked full of first edition books signed by the most famous authors. Just thinking about it makes me all excited and warm inside!
As for the story itself, I really enjoyed it. Perhaps the character development could've been a bit more thorough (I didn't feel like I got to know any of the characters well enough to really care about their fates), but considering that this was more of a plot-driven (or should I say mystery-driven) book, as opposed to a character-driven one, I can't really complain. The plot line was solid and well thought out, and I enjoyed all the twists (even the predictable ones), especially those in the second half of the story.
Despite being set in modern times, The Vanishing reads like a classic Gothic novel. Wendy Webb beautifully blends together all the usual elements of Gothic Horror: mystery, terror, romance, spiritualism and mysticism. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about the dark history of Havenwood, its previous owners and things that happened within the premises. And with every page turned, the story gets darker and more exciting. I didn't find it very terrifying, but it was definitely very captivating and fun to read.
This was my first book by Wendy Webb, but it definitely won't be my last. I'm now looking forward to reading all her previous novels, as well as the future ones. I do hope she'll write more spine-tingling ghost stories set against backdrops as vibrant and disquieting as Havenwood.