The Vanishing Point

The Vanishing Point

by Val McDermid


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One of the finest crime writers we have, Val McDermid’s heart-stopping thrillers have won her international renown and a devoted following of readers worldwide. In The Vanishing Point, she kicks off a terrifying thriller with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.

Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?

A powerful, grippingly-plotted thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the end, The Vanishing Point showcases McDermid at the height of her talent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802120526
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.38(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.42(d)

About the Author

Val McDermid is the author of twenty-five previous best-selling novels, which have been translated into over forty languages and have sold over ten million copies worldwide.

Read an Excerpt


O'Hare Airport, Chicago

Stephanie Harker was just about old enough to remember when air travel had been exciting. She glanced down at the five-year-old fiddling with the tape stretched between the movable pillars that marked out the snaking line waiting to go through security. Jimmy would never know that feeling. He'd grow up to associate flying with tedium and the mounting irritation that came from dealing with people who were variously bored, dismissive or just plain rude. Jimmy seemed to sense her eyes on him and he looked up, his expression tentative and wary. 'Can we go in the pool tonight?' he asked, his voice tinged with the expectation of refusal.

'Course we can,' Stephanie said.

'Even if the plane's late?' There was no sign that her words had allayed his anxiety.

'Even if the plane's late. The house has its own pool. Right outside the living room. It doesn't matter how late we get in, you can have a swim.'

He frowned, weighing her response, then nodded. 'OK.'

They shuffled forward a few more feet. Changing planes in America infuriated Stephanie. When you arrived by plane, you'd already been through security at least once. Sometimes twice. In most other countries, when you transferred to an onward flight, you didn't have to go through a second screening. You were already airside. You'd been declared secure, the authorities figured. No need to go through the whole rigmarole yet another time.

But America was different. America was always different. In America, she suspected, they didn't trust any other country on the planet to have proper airport security. So when you arrived in the US for a connecting flight, you had to emerge from airside to landside then, whoop-de-doo, you got to stand in a queue all over again to go through the same process you'd already endured to get on the first bloody plane. Sometimes even losing that bargain bottle of mandarin vodka you'd picked up on special offer at the duty free on the way out because you'd forgotten you'd have a second security examination where they'd be imposing the rule about liquids. Even liquids you'd bought in a bloody airport. Bastards.

As if that wasn't irritating enough, the latest American version of the security pat-down nudged the outer limits of what Stephanie considered sexual assault. She'd become a connoisseur of the thoroughness of security personnel, thanks to the screws and plate that had held her left leg together for the past ten years. There was no consistency in the actions of the women who moved in to check her over after the metal detector had beeped and flashed. At one extreme, in Madrid she'd been neither patted down nor wanded. Rome was perfunctory, Berlin efficient. But in America, the thoroughness bordered on offensiveness, the backs of hands bumping breasts and butting against her like a clumsy teenage boy. It was uncomfortable and humiliating.

Another few feet. But now the line ahead was moving steadily. Slowly, but steadily. Jimmy swung under the tape at the point where the queue rounded the mark and bounced in front of her. 'I beat you,' he said.

'So you did.' Stephanie disengaged a hand from the carry-on bags to rumple his thick black hair. At least the frustrations of the journey were a distraction from worrying about holidaying with her son. Her nostrils flared as the unfamiliar phrase stuttered in her head. Holidaying with her son. How long would it be before that stopped sounding freakish, outlandish, impossible? In California, they'd be surrounded by normal families. Jimmy and her, they were anything but a normal family. And this was a trip she never expected to be making. Please, let it not go wrong.

'Can I sit beside the window again?' Jimmy tugged at her elbow. 'Can I, Steph?'

'As long as you promise not to open it in mid-flight.'

He gave her a suspicious look then grinned. 'Would I get sucked out into space if I did?'

'Yup. You'd be the boy in the moon.' She waved him onward. They'd picked up speed and were almost at the point where they'd have to load their bags and the contents of their pockets into a plastic tray to pass through the X-ray scanner. Stephanie caught sight of a large Perspex enclosure beyond the metal detector and pursed her lips. 'Remember what I told you, Jimmy,' she said firmly. 'You know I'll set off the alarms and then I'll have to stay inside that clear box until somebody checks me over. You're not allowed in with me.'

He pouted. 'Why not?'

'It's the rules. Don't worry,' she added, seeing the troubled look in his eyes. 'Nothing bad's going to happen to me. You wait by the luggage belt, OK? Don't go anywhere, just wait till I come out on the other side. Do you understand?' Now he was avoiding her eye. Maybe he felt she was talking down to him. It was so hard to pitch things at the right level. 'I'll guard the bags,' he said. 'So nobody can steal them.'


The man ahead of them in the queue shrugged out of his suit jacket and folded it into a tray. Off with his shoes, then his belt. He opened his laptop bag and removed the computer, laying it in a second tray. He nodded towards them, indicating he was done. 'No dignity in travel these days,' he said with a grim smile.

'You ready, Jimmy?' Stephanie stepped forward and grab bed a plastic tray. 'That's an important job you've got, the guarding bit.' She loaded their stuff, checked Jimmy's pockets then shooed him through the metal detector ahead of her. He turned to watch as the machine beeped, the red lights lit up and the beefy Transport Security Agency operative indicated the Perspex pen.

'Female officer,' he called out, chins and belly wobbling. 'Wait inside the box, ma'am.' He pointed to the enclosure, a couple of metres long by a metre wide. The outlines of two feet were painted on the floor. A plastic chair sat against one wall. A wooden plinth contained a hand-held metal detector. Jimmy's eyes widened as Stephanie walked in. She waved him towards the conveyor belt where their possessions were slowly emerging from the scanner.

'Wait for me,' she mouthed, giving him a thumbs-up.

Jimmy turned away and moved to the end of the conveyor belt, staking out their plastic trays. Stephanie looked around impatiently. There were three or four female TSA officers in sight, but none of them seemed eager to deal with her. Thank goodness she and Jimmy weren't rushing to make a connection. Knowing what US transfers were like these days, she'd deliberately left plenty of time between their flights.

She looked back at Jimmy. One of the TSA agents appeared to be talking to him. A tall man in black uniform trousers and blue shirt. But something was off-kilter. Stephanie frowned. He was wearing a cap, that was what it was. None of the other TSA people wore anything on their heads. As she watched, the man reached for Jimmy's hand.

For a split second, Stephanie couldn't believe what she was seeing. The man was leading a compliant Jimmy away from the security area towards the concourse where dozens of people were milling back and forth. Not a backward glance from either of them.

'Jimmy,' she shouted. 'Jimmy, come back here.' Her voice rose in pitch, but it was deadened by the Perspex enclosure. Neither the man nor the child broke step. Worried now, Stephanie banged on the side of the box, gesturing towards the concourse. 'My kid,' she shouted. 'Somebody's taken my kid.'

Her words seemed to have no impact but her actions did. Two agents moved towards the box, not towards Jimmy. They were oblivious to what was happening behind them. Frantic, Stephanie thrust aside the voice in her head telling her she was crazy and made a run for it.

She'd barely made it out of the Perspex box when one of the agents grabbed her arm, saying something that didn't register. His grip slowed her but it didn't stop her. The prospect of losing Jimmy pushed her over her normal limits. The officer snatched at her with his other hand and without thinking, Stephanie whirled round and smashed her fist into his face. 'They're kidnapping my kid,' she yelled.

Blood flowed from the guard's nose, but he held on tight. Now Stephanie could only see the man's hat. Jimmy was lost in the crowd. Panic gave her strength and she dragged the guard behind her. Dimly, she was aware of other officers drawing weapons and shouting at her, but her focus was total. 'Jimmy,' she screamed.

By now, another guard had grabbed her waist, trying to wrestle her to the ground. 'Get down on the floor,' he yelled. 'On the floor, now.' She kicked out, raking her heel down his shin.

The raised voices blurred into a meaningless noise as a third TSA officer joined battle, throwing himself on her back. Stephanie felt her knees buckle as she crumpled to the floor. 'My boy,' she mumbled, reaching for the pocket where she'd put their boarding passes. Suddenly the bodies restraining her melted away and she was free. Confused but relieved they were finally paying attention, Stephanie pushed herself one-handed to her knees.

That was when they tasered her.


Everything happened at once. Excruciating agony flashed along nerves, dancing synapses sending devastating messages to muscles. Stephanie's collapse was instantaneous, a complete system failure, like the flick of a switch. Her mind raced in confusion, unable to make sense of the pain and the total loss of physical control. The one impulse that remained was the need to communicate what had happened.

She was convinced she was shouting Jimmy's name, even as she hit the ground hard. But what she heard was a meaningless mangle of sound, the kind of dream-mumble people made when they were having a nightmare.

As suddenly as the pain had hit, it disappeared. Stephanie raised her head, bewildered. She paid no attention to the ring of Transport Security Administration officers surrounding her at a cautious distance. She was oblivious to the rubber necking passengers, their exclamations or their camera phones. She strained to see Jimmy and caught a glimpse of his bright red Arsenal shirt next to the black and blue of a TSA uniform. They were turning off the main concourse, disappearing from sight. Ignoring the residual ache in her muscles, Stephanie pushed herself upright and launched herself in the crucial direction, a primal roar emerging from her throat.

She didn't even complete the first stride. This time, the taser blast was longer, the disarticulation more thorough. This time, once the initial disabling effect was over, she remained disorientated and weak. Two officers hauled her to her feet and dragged her down the concourse in the direction opposite to where she'd last seen Jimmy. With the last of her energy, Stephanie tried to struggle free.

'Give it up,' one of the officers restraining her yelled.

'Cuff her,' a second, more authoritative voice said.

Stephanie felt her arms yanked behind her and the cold bracelet of metal handcuffs closed round each wrist. Now they were moving more quickly, hustling her down a side hallway and through a door. They dropped her on a plastic chair, her arms uncomfortably pulled over its back. Her head felt like the gears were slipping their cogs. She couldn't get a grip on her thoughts.

A stocky Hispanic woman in TSA uniform stepped in front of her. Her expression was rock hard and grim but her eyes seemed considering. 'You'll feel confused for a while. It'll pass. You're not dying. You're not even hurt. Not like my colleague with the busted nose. Do not attempt to leave this room. You will be prevented if you do.'

'Someone kidnapped my son.' The words came out thick and slurred. She sounded drunk and incomprehensible to her own ears. She couldn't even focus enough to read the woman's name badge.

'I'll be back to interview you shortly,' the woman said, following her colleagues towards the door.

'Wait,' Stephanie yelled. 'My boy. Somebody took my boy.'

The woman didn't even break stride on her way out.

Now the overwhelming sensation in Stephanie's body was the cold clutch of fear in her chest. Never mind what the taser had done to her body and her mind. Terror was all she understood at that moment. Her initial panic had altered, taking with it the urgency for flight or fight. Now the apprehension felt like a chill lump in her chest, weighing down her heart and making it hard to breathe. As thoughts and emotions tumbled inside her, Stephanie forced herself to focus on one solid piece of information. Someone had walked away from the security area with Jimmy. A stranger had whisked him away without a ripple in the surface of normality. How could that have happened? And why wouldn't they listen to her?

She had to get out of there, had to make someone in authority understand that something terrible had happened, was still happening right now. Stephanie struggled against the back of the chair, trying to release her arms. But the more she wrestled against the rigid plastic, the more trammelled she felt. At last, she realised the design of the chair meant she couldn't push her arms far enough behind her to clear its back. The fact that it was bolted to the floor meant she couldn't even get to her feet and take it with her like some bizarre turtle shell.

She'd no sooner reached that conclusion than the woman who had spoken to her walked back into the room. She was followed by a lanky middle-aged man in the now-familiar TSA uniform who sat down opposite Stephanie without greeting her. Greying dark hair in an immaculate crew cut framed a face that was all hollows and angles, like something constructed from a kid's magnet modelling kit. His eyes were cold, his mouth and chin too weak for the image he was trying to project. His name badge read Randall Parton and there were two gold stripes on the shoulder board of his blue shirt. Stephanie was relieved to find she could make sense of what she was seeing this time around.

'Somebody kidnapped my boy,' she said, urgency tumbling her words together. 'You need to sound the alert. Tell the cops. Whatever it is you do when a stranger steals a kid.'

Parton kept up the stony stare. 'What is your name?' he said. Stephanie recognised the tight twang of New England in his speech.

'My name? Stephanie Harker. But that's not important. What's important —'

'We decide what's important round here.' Parton straightened his shoulders inside his neatly ironed shirt. 'And what's important right now is that you are a security risk.'

'That's crazy. I'm the victim here.'

'From where I'm standing, my officer is the victim here. The officer you assaulted in your attempt to escape the security screening area before you could be searched. After you had set off the metal detector.' Behind him, Stephanie could see the woman shift from one foot to the other, as if she was uncomfortable in the moment.

'I set off the metal detector because I have a metal plate and three screws in my left leg. I was in a bad car accident ten years ago. I always set off the detectors.'

'And as of now we have no way of determining the truth of that. Now what we need to establish before we go any further is that you are no risk to my country or my team. We require that you submit to a thorough search.'

Stephanie felt pressure building up inside her head, as if a blood vessel was about to burst behind her eyes. 'This is crazy. What are my rights here?' 'It's not my job to inform you of your legal rights. It's my job to maintain airport security.'

'So why aren't you searching for the kidnapper who stole my son? Jesus Christ.'

'There's no need for language like that. For all I know this story of a kidnap is an elaborate ruse. I'm still waiting for you to confirm you will submit to a thorough body search.'

'I'm confirming nothing till you start dealing with what has happened to Jimmy, you idiot. Where's your boss? I want to talk to someone in authority here. Get these handcuffs off me. I want a lawyer.'

Parton's lips compressed in a tight smile that had nothing to do with humour. 'Non-US citizens selected for a longer interview generally do not have the right to an attorney.' There was more than a hint of triumph in his voice.

The woman officer cleared her throat and took a step forward. Lia Lopez, according to her name badge. 'Randall, she's talking about an abducted kid. She has the right to an attorney if we're asking her about anything other than immigration status or security.'

Parton swung his head round portentously, as if it were as heavy as a bowling ball. 'Which, as of right now, we are not doing, Lopez.' He held the glare for a long moment then turned back to Stephanie. 'You need to confirm your consent,' he repeated.

'Am I legally required to submit to a search?' It had dawned on Stephanie that if this idiot wasn't going to listen to her, somehow she had to get in front of someone who would. And quickly.


Excerpted from "The Vanishing Point"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Val McDermid.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Vanishing Point 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
In her twenty-sixth novel, a standalone, Val McDermid goes rather far afield from her previous books. It opens with a child abduction at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. While a passenger is going through an airport security check, a man in what appears to be a TSA uniform appears and guides the five-year-old boy traveling with her through the terminal and they both seem to disappear. It soon falls to 27-year-old FBI Special Agent Vivian McKuras to interview the woman, Stephanie Harker, the godmother [and planned adoptive mother] of the little boy, Jimmy. The boy’s mother, Scarlett Higgins [dubbed by the media as The Scarlett Harlot] had been a reality-tv star, one of those famous for being famous, with whom Stephanie had ghost-written several books, becoming best friends in the process. The question becomes: Had this been “a random abduction, a spur-of-the-moment snatch,” or had Jimmy been a very specific target? In order to ascertain into which category this falls, Vivian questions Stephanie at length as to the entire background and history of all concerned. What ensues is a rather lengthy tale, the story zig-zagging from those flashbacks to the present time as the investigation shifts into high gear. The boy’s father, who Scarlett married shortly before his birth in a media-planned circus, had died from a drug-overdose not long afterwards, Scarlett more recently after a very public battle with cancer. Stephanie puts Vivian in touch with a UK counterpart, and everything becomes more complex. As it nears its end, the plot takes a very unexpected turn, morphing into a stunning conclusion. Stephanie is a fascinating protagonist, one who takes refuge in her profession. When it is suggested to her that she could sell her story to a magazine, her response is: “‘I don’t want to have a story.’ I like being a ghost. Insubstantial. Transparent. Anonymous.” An intriguing tale it is, in which manic stalkers [of both genders] are a theme. [The author thoughtfully includes a glossary at book’s end, translating Brit-speak for the American readers.] Val McDermid just keeps getting better. Highly recommended.
BuriedUnderBooks More than 1 year ago
There are certain authors I always can count on to provide me with an excellent read, a brief escape into a world I can laugh at or be mesmerized by, a world that shakes me to the core for one reason or another. I understand, though, that many of those authors whose work I admire so much might stumble now and then. The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid‘s stumble. Ms. McDermid is a wonderful writer—I have enjoyed everything of hers I’ve read until this one—and even this has some redeeming aspects. It’s not a BAD book; it just doesn’t rise to the level of her usual top notch work and that becomes evident early in the story. Most of the disappointment I had was in regard to the credibility of the story. For a woman who shows a lot of inner strength and is clearly able to take care of herself, Stephanie seems too insecure, beyond what could be attributed to her past relationship. More importantly, what happens in the airport just isn’t believable enough. Stephanie knows she will have to be screened or patted down because of the metal in her leg so why wouldn’t she make sure the child stayed close by? As much as we, the public, dislike the behavior of a few TSA employees (and as much as we may hate the whole system), I have a hard time believing they would so totally dismiss her screams for help when she sees what’s happening. And, when it becomes obvious that time is critical, no FBI agent would allow Stephanie to go on and on with the backstory, nor would Stephanie want to blather on while little is being done to find Jimmy. The last straw for me was when I realized that she was inexplicably hesitant to tell the FBI agent about the person who is very likely to be behind the kidnapping. Unfortunately, with such plot holes early on, I found it hard to engage with the story or even take it as seriously as such a topic deserves but I did finish the book, hoping Ms. McDermid would pull it together. To a certain extent, she did, but the twist ending was too little too late. I have no doubt the author will get back on track with the next book and I’m certainly going to look forward to it but, sadly, this one is not a keeper for me. Our reactions to books are very personal, though, and many of her devoted readers will like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
interesting like all others from this author
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