Phil Gabelli, gambler, womanizer, and general wise-ass, has disappeared. His long-suffering wife, Robin, is sure something terrible has happened to him while his best friend, Dom Stewart, tries his hardest to console Robin. Enter Detective Luca and his new partner Mary Ann Vargas.
Luca is dealing with his own issues: guilt over one of his past cases and a frightening health scare that keeps him out of the investigation for months.
Rumors of gambling debts, fraud, and sexual abuse all confuse the issue of what happened to Phil. Did Robin kill him for the insurance money? Was his death the result of his debts to violent bookies? Did Dom decide to get Phil out of the way so that he could pursue Robin?
Theme of the Book
Vanished is a gritty novel of obsession. Stewart is obsessed with living the good life without working, using women, especially Robin, as his means. Luca is obsessed with a case in his past. It is this that motivates both the villain and the hero.
What I Liked About the Story
The novel Vanished alternates point of view between Luca, the investigator, and Dom Stewart, best friend of the missing man. This technique allows the reader to get inside the minds of the characters and allows the author full time to develop each.
Mr. Petrosini is a master at portraying unsympathetic characters. Dom Stewart is one such character. Each chapter written from Stewart’s point of view begins with an inspirational quote, the sort of quote that Stewart has framed and displayed in his apartment. The reader learns very quickly that Stewart is influenced by these quotes to the point of believing that if he wants something enough, he will get it. It also doesn’t take long for the reader to see that what Stewart wants is Robin, or at least the life-style she can provide. Stewart, sure that he is smarter than the detectives, is just waiting for his plan to bear fruit. Narcissistic, selfish, and cock-sure, Stewart is a wholly unlikable character who nevertheless draws the reader in and keeps the reader fascinated.
Detective Luca is a more complex character, certainly more complex than the average detective in a police procedural. Although he is a good and honest police officer, he is consumed by guilt and self-doubt. The health scare he experiences results in a sense of his own mortality and the realization that there are, indeed, gray areas in life. The reader will sympathize with Luca, will cheer him on, and will appreciate his ability to get the job done no matter what happens in his life.
One of the best things about Mr. Petrosini’s novel is that despite being a murder mystery, there is almost no violence and the story is not full of corpses. The mystery is character-driven with just enough action to keep readers turning pages. It seems odd to describe a murder mystery as introspective, but this one is full of the thoughts and feelings of its protagonists.
What I Didn’t Like About the Story
There is an episode in the novel that concerns domestic violence. A woman calls the police because she is threatened by her husband. Later, her children call when the husband beats his wife badly enough to send her to the hospital. I am guessing that this episode is used to illuminate Luca’s character. He feels both guilt and responsibility for the woman because he did not arrest the husband after the first call to the police. While this does give the reader some insight into Luca, it is not more than can be assumed from the author’s description of the Barrow case from Luca’s time in New Jersey. The episode feels out of place in what is, in general, a tightly-written novel.
Two other “red herrings”, having to do with sexual abuse and fraud, also seem superfluous. The former is totally out of character for the victim while the latter is not enough of a false clue to fool even the least experienced mystery reader. What they do show is that police work and criminal investigation is not the straightforward process shown on television.
When I started Vanished, I had a very long to-do list. Not many items got done. I simply couldn’t stop reading. Aside from a couple of unnecessary red herrings, this was a book I couldn’t put down. The characters are complex and well-written; the plot moves quickly; Detective Luca is now one of my favorites. Highly recommended.