vanished1dsadHold onto your hats!  Lynn Gardner has begun a new series, starting with Vanished, a keep-you-awake mystery.  Gardner’s previous “jewel” mystery series was fun and scarcely gave readers an opportunity to catch their breath between exciting scenes, but this new series takes the reader to an entirely new level.

Always a good writer, Gardner has matured to an exceptional writer with this new venture.  The protagonist is Maggie McKenzie, a young, single newspaper reporter.  Maggie’s first job as a full-fledged reporter takes her to San Buenaventura, California, a long way from her family in a tiny rural community in Idaho.  Having won a contest that guaranteed her a job, she’s shocked when the office manager denies she knows anything about her.  She’s also confused by the office manager’s strange reaction to meeting her.

Maggie is given a dream assignment to follow the trail Lewis and Clark traveled and write a series of articles commemorating the bicentennial of their Voyage of Discovery.  Before she can leave on her assignment, a series of strange happenings piques her curiosity about a seven-year-old mystery concerning the kidnapping of her new employer’s daughter on her sixteenth birthday.  Intrigued, she coerces the office manager into giving her a copy of the file on the case.  She reasons that since she is traveling to the same area where several people claimed to have seen the missing girl, she could check out their stories while working on the Lewis and Clark series.

A strange phenomenon begins to happen to Maggie as thoughts and ideas pop into her head with increasing frequency.  It seems as though the missing girl is trying to communicate with her.  Eventually the contact becomes frightening, and she begins to fear the other girl is taking over her mind.  From the time she visits the first community where a reported sighting of the kidnapped girl took place, finding “Katie” assumes a greater part of her time and attention than the series she has been assigned to write.  As she travels from one location to the next she encounters a psychologist, Flynn, who is pursuing the study of the mental connectivity that occasionally occurs between two individuals, which is primarily recognized as peculiar to twins. Flynn suggests the two girls might actually be twins, but Maggie is certain they couldn’t be.  Her parents would never give up a child and her older brothers remember her mother’s pregnancy.  She has seen pictures taken of her mother shortly before her birth.

Maggie and Flynn form a friendship which is partly doctor/patient in character and partly something more personal.   Murder and intrigue run rampant as they pursue clues to the missing girl’s disappearance.   

In Gardner’s earlier books the action is so fast, the reader is hard put to absorb one crisis before being plunged into the next one.  In Vanished, more attention is given to building each scene, playing it out, and moving smoothly into the next.  This smoother style lends more credence to the action and builds the suspense to a higher pitch.  It also eliminates that breathless sense of running every-which-way some readers have noted in her earlier work. She still switches point of view a little more rapidly than necessary, but she doesn’t leave her readers scrambling to know whose head they are in.  Her earlier books have also been criticized for the way religious or spiritual aspects of the story appeared to be afterthoughts.  Not so with Vanished.  Here there is a smooth blending that feels natural rather than contrived and is one of the strengths of the book.

Gardner also takes care to explain both psychological theories and religious elements that are key to the story.  The whole realm of mental connectivity is a difficult subject to explore in fiction.  Many authors who have tried have strayed from LDS doctrine concerning agency, out-of-body experiences, and the known facts of this phenomenon into the realms of fantasy or science fiction.  Gardner approaches the subject from both known medical evidence and sound doctrine.

I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy a good mystery, anyone with a curious nature, and to all those who have been waiting for a really top-ranked mystery series to join the ranks of the growing list of LDS genres.

Vanished, by Lynn Gardner

Published by Covenant Communications, 361 pages, $19.95