Thursday Thriller: The Night They Vanished by Vanessa Savage
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 3, 2022)
Length: 384 pages
Before Hanna met Adam, she had no idea what dark tourism even was. It all started when she let her best friend Dee convince her to go on a blind date with him, and in all fairness, Adam turned out to be a very nice guy, if a little obsessed with his strange hobbies. During their date, Adam takes Hanna to a creepy old house and explains how places like this have inspired him to create a website called The Dark Tourist, where he features and writes about locations associated with death and heinous crimes.
A little unnerved but intrigued, Hanna returns home after the date and decides to check out The Dark Tourist and is horrified by what she sees. The latest post on the site shows an image of her old family home listed along with a pronouncement that that all the occupants within—Hanna’s father, stepmother, and half-sister—were murdered. In a panic, Hanna contacts Adam about the post, but he swears his site must have been hacked because he did not upload the entry. Not knowing what to believe, Hanna decides to check up on her family personally, even though she has barely spoken to them in the last fourteen years. In fact, Hanna is pretty sure her father had already washed his hands of her completely, but still, she had to know.
What she discovers is even more disconcerting. No one seems to have any idea what happened to Hanna’s family. She can’t reach them. Their house sits empty. Some of the townsfolk say they must have moved out, but Hanna can’t seem to get a clear answer out of anyone. The whole village is suspicious of her now that she’s returned because they still think she’s trouble, or that she’s dangerous after what happened all those years ago. But Hanna doesn’t care what they think or what they believe she did, she just wants to find her family, as there are secrets in her past that need protecting.
The Night They Vanished was a novel I found more mysterious than anything. The story is told via two perspectives, alternating between Hanna and her half-sister, Sasha. The latter’s chapters begin some months before Hanna meets Adam and discovers her house listed on his website, so it is gradually revealed what happened to her family.
But Sasha’s POV is even more revealing than that. As her plotline unfolds, the picture of a shy and lonely young girl slowly comes to light. We find out that she is the product of a strict upbringing, from a cold and uncompromising father and a mother who just goes along with everything he says. Sasha also doesn’t fit in at school and feels disconnected from everyone around her because of how her family keeps her so isolated. All this is set up to make you wonder, did her older sister Hanna also experience such a dispassionate childhood and loneliness when she was growing up in this household? Did she fight back? And might that have anything to do with why she left home at such a young age and never looked back?
Hanna’s own POV provides some answers to that. We find out that she was a troubled teenager whose rebellious acts often got her into trouble. It was enough to land her in a church group that helped kids like her. There, she became part of a close-knit group of friends and until tragedy struck and her whole life blew up. Years later, Hanna has been run out of town, and all her loved ones have turned their back on her, and the current situation with her missing family is somehow related to everything, but how? As Hanna and Adam team up to investigate, more questions begin to present themselves. Someone is clearly targeting Hanna, but why? And what could they want?
In many ways, this reminded me very much of another Vanessa Savage novel I read, The Woods, which also deals with small towns, past transgressions, and family. While that one was on the slower side, The Night They Vanished was slightly more urgent in its pacing, and I was glad the plot moved quickly. There were a few things I wish could have improved, however, including the dark tourism aspect. This story had the potential to be darker and more suspenseful, but there were some missed opportunities. I also felt the author might have played her cards close to the vest too long, misjudging the timing so that when we finally found out what Hanna’s secret was, I had already figured it out, which robbed the revelation of much of its impact.
Small flaws aside though, I enjoyed The Night They Vanished very much. The ending was especially intense, delivering an edge-of-your seat rush to the finish. Overall a well-paced mystery suspense novel and I would definitely pick up another book by Vanessa Savage.