Vanished by Kendra Elliot is what I needed to cleanse my palette after The Dining Club incident. It’s a solid romantic suspense book, although I thought the character development was a little shallow.
Mason Callahan is a detective in Portland. He’s standing over the dead body of his former confidential informant (a prostitute and drug addict) wondering who killed her when his phone rings. It’s his ex-wife. Her eleven year old step-daughter, Henley, has disappeared on her way to school.
Mason and his ex have an amicable relationship and share custody of their son, Jake. Mason is very open about the fact that he was an absentee husband and father, and his relationship with Jake is strained. His ex has moved on, remarrying and having two more children of her own, Kylie and Kindy (what the fuck? Is she a Kardashian?) as well as being step-mom to Henley.
Mason can’t be directly involved in the case, due to how close he is to the family, but he offers to act as a liaison between them and law enforcement. Forced into their happy home, he sticks out like a sore thumb, and realizes how much he’s been married to his work.
I liked Mason. He’s a quiet, somewhat curmudgeonly man who wears a cowboy hat and boots even though it makes him stick out. He’s older than most heroes, nearing fifty. He’s not an action hero, more prone to silent observation than busting in to save the day, and while he helped with Henley’s case, he didn’t take it over. In a lot of ways he reminded of Raylan Givens from Justified (maybe it’s the hat?) a sort of old-west gunslinger sheriff.
Special Agent Ava (a nod to Justified, maybe?) McLane from the FBI’s CARD Unit (Child Abduction Rapid Deployment) is happy to have Mason there to help with the family. Unlike a lot of romantic suspense books there isn’t any territorial pissing match going on. Ava can see that Mason is a good cop, and she’s happy for the help.
It quickly becomes apparent that Henley was abducted by a stranger. Her lunchbox is found along the route to school. Neighbors report having seen a ubiquitous sketchy van. Every chapter starts with the number of hours Henley has been missing, and the reader feels the urgency that Mason and Ava are operating under.
To add to the strain, Ava also has to deal with her addict sister, Jayne, who is constantly getting in trouble. I wasn’t sure Jayne added a ton to the book, but their relationship did give Ava’s character some depth.
All of this is enough for a great romantic suspense title, but Elliot adds some delicious twists to the plot.
While involved with trying to solve Henley’s abduction, Mason gets a call that his finger prints were found at the crime scene where his CI was killed. Someone has planted evidence to make him look like the killer. Mason’s dog goes missing, and an ominous note is left under it’s bowl. Yes, this book has DIJ (Dog In Jeopardy). Need to know if the dog is okay in order to read on? SPOILER: The dog’s fine. Breathe a sigh of relief. Jake’s luggage (he’s home from college for Christmas break) is stolen from the airport.
All of these things seem unrelated, but Mason and Ava wonder if they are somehow tied to Henley’s disappearance. And with Mason looking more like a murderer in the eyes of law, they have to move fast to solve it.
I liked the twisty plot in Vanished. I liked that Mason and Ava didn’t immediately feel insta-lust when they first met. I’ve always found that a bit squicky. “Oh hey, this kid is missing and statistically dead, but damn, boy, you look fine in those jeans.” Even though the book takes place over several days, Elliot manages to make Ava and Mason’s attraction more of a slow burn, based on mutual trust and respect. When they do fall into bed it feels real, not rushed.
I didn’t feel that Mason changed much by the end of the book, though, and that’s what kept this from being an A read for me. His involvement in Henley’s case makes him realize that his life as a loner isn’t working, but I didn’t get the impression he was on a path to drastically change. He realizes that Ava is his second chance, but I wasn’t convinced that he’d turned the corner and changed significantly.
This book was a little more suspense than romance, but that suspense is really well done. If you’re looking for a good thriller with a love story and some hot sex, look no further than Vanished.