Skip to main content

The Vanishing Season

By Joanna Schaffhausen

Minotaur Books, 274 pages, $32.50

Story continues below advertisement

The late Julian Symons, dean of mystery critics, advised never reviewing first novels since they could be the first and only good novel an author produced or, contrarily, the worst. Let writers work things out and then see what happens in books three or four was his thinking.

That's certainly good advice and one that I tend to think about when I read First Mystery Novel that's won a major prize, such as the Mystery Writers of America, which brings us The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen, whose day job is as a scientific editor submerged in research into cancer, among other diseases. The MWA is usually a good judge of even first novels but it's the plotline that led me to the book. Ellery Hathaway is the only surviving victim of a serial killer named Francis Coben. She was number 17 but she lived. Now, years later, she's a police officer in a small New England town where no one knows her past.

When first one, and then two, more young women disappear and the only link is Ellery's birthday, she knows someone remembers Coben and her. She contacts the only person she trusts, the FBI agent who saved her life years before. But there's more to this story than the return of evil. Schaffhausen builds a fine story of a character who escaped but may not have been saved. This is a most auspicious debut.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons or for abuse. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies