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Vanishing Point: A Sharon McCone Mystery    by Marcia Muller order for
Vanishing Point
by Marcia Muller
Order:  USA  Can
Mysterious Press, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

As the 24th in the long-running and popular Sharon McCone series, Vanishing Point has accumulated a long train of the San Francisco PI's friends, family, and employees for readers to track and recall - and some of their relationships have grown convoluted as the series evolved. Though I've read a few of the prior episodes, I have by no means digested all of them, so at times found this maze of secondaries confusing.

As this episode opens, Sharon has just married security consultant Hy Ripinsky in a private Carson City ceremony, and still faces the adjustments inevitable to married life - including a series of celebrations organized after the fact by friends and family. During one of them, Sharon's friend and onetime assistant Rae asks her to take on a cold case for Rae's friend, textile designer Jennifer Aldin (who's also married to Rae's husband Ricky's financial manager). Jennifer is obsessed with the disappearance of her mother, Laurel Greenwood, two decades before when Jennifer was ten. Her father has steadfastly refused to talk about it, but has recently died, freeing his daughter to pursue the case (Jen's younger sister has no interest).

At first, Shar's team uncovers only questions. Why did Jen's father burn all her mom's paintings after the disappearance? Why did Laurel take off so often on painting trips? How did the death of Lauren's cousin Josie affect her state of mind? Who was the biker she dined with in a Cayucos restaurant just before vanishing? Did Laurel commit suicide, or was it foul play? Sharon personally and methodically spearheads the investigation, efficiently using her staff for research and pursuit of extraneous issues. It soon becomes clear that someone doesn't want the case warmed up. Information is leaked to the press, Shar is shot at and lied to, and her 'shit detector' kicks in. Then her client disappears in a fashion that eerily mirrors what happened to Jen's mother, and people close to the case die.

This competent PI heroine flies planes, traces clues, confronts villains - and always gets her man. Of course, she solves the puzzle this time too, and it pieces together into surprising pictures in both past and present. And her marriage? Sharon figures out that 'it only gets better'.

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