A Father's Promise

Vanish in Plain Sight
by Marta Perry
(Harlequin, $7.99, G) ISBN 978-373-77576-7
The folks at Harlequin are marketing this book as a romantic suspense. That’s mighty generous of them considering it contains not much suspense (check out the G-rating) and less romance (ditto).

Link Morgan, the brother of the hero in the author’s Murder in Plain Sight, is renovating the house his uncle Allen left him. Wounded in Afghanistan, Link is still recovering both mentally and physically from his experience. He wants to get the house in condition to sell so he can leave his family and former life in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and flee to California where he can hide in anonymity.

He finds an old suitcase in a wall. Inside are Amish clothing and a photo of a woman and a little girl. The woman is identified as Barbara Angelo who disappeared more than twenty years ago leaving her husband and young daughter behind. Barbara had left her Amish background to marry the Englischer Russ Angelo but had never felt she belonged in the outside world.

After the Springville police notify her of the find, children’s book illustrator, Marisa Angelo travels from Baltimore. All her life she’d been haunted by the image of her mother walking away from her and still wonders how her mother could leave without further word. Now she finally has a chance to find out what had happened. When the stains on the suitcase prove to be blood, the mystery takes on sinister possibilities. The police are skeptical that Marisa’s father is traveling and out of touch so she is dealing with the pressures of the unfolding investigation mostly on her own.

Marisa stays in a bed-and-breakfast inn run by an Amish couple. They help her get in contact with her Amish cousins and enlist the support of the local bishop. Some Amish, however, are hostile to her questioning including the man who had hoped to marry Barbara before she left her religion. She suspects she is being watched.

Meanwhile, Link and his family provide valuable information about Barbara’s employment as Allen’s housekeeper as well as moral support for Marisa as she tries to find the solution to a nearly life-long mystery.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is famously known for its large Amish community. (Locals pronounce it LAN-cu-ster not lan-CAST-er.) It was the setting for the movie Witness with Harrison Ford. The film, however, capitalized on its quaint setting far more than Vanish in Plain Sight does. This is the second book in a series so perhaps the first (which I have not read) is heavier in Amish atmosphere. (Basic story lines from the first are woven into this book so it stands well on its own.) There’s an occasional mention of Amish quilts but not much else to distinguish this book’s setting from any other generic place.

The story’s plodding pacing gets in the way of any suspense. Life may move more slowly in Amish country, but the suspense shouldn’t have to. The length of time between Barbara’s disappearance and the discovery of the suitcase ought to be more of a problem. Conveniently, clues turn up at regular intervals two decades later. Many of us have trouble remembering what we did last week, but these characters have remarkably detailed memories for even minor events twenty years in the past. The eventual resolution depends too much on coincidence and begs more explanation.

Another weakness is how Link easily resolves his service-related issues and falls in love with Marisa. There’s not a hint of sexual tension between them yet he suddenly knows he loves her. Even though Marisa’s attention is understandably focused on her mother’s disappearance, she comes to the same realization. That’s more plot convenience than romance.

Marisa is the book’s best feature. She’s a sympathetic, well developed character. Unfortunately, she’s also one of those aggravating characters so common in Gothic novels who inevitably end up checking out the graveyard at midnight. Marisa seems to have given no consideration to the possibility that the reason her mother never contacted her is that she’s dead. That’s just not credible.

Over the course of the three weeks I was reading Vanish in Plain Sight, I read multiple other books and finished it only in order to review it. Whenever a book fails so completely to capture my attention, I cannot recommend it.

--Lesley Dunlap

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