The fourth book in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series, Vanished, is the best in the series so far. Harper Blaine, Richardson’s private investigator protagonist, gets a telephone call from an old boyfriend — not necessarily an unusual event, except that, in this case, the boyfriend happens to be long dead. He hints that there is much that Harper does not know that she needs to find out, quickly, and encourages her to come to Los Angeles to look into her past.
Los Angeles is not a place Harper enjoys visiting. She doesn’t get along with her mother, who appears to be weaving a net around husband-to-be number five. Mom is obsessed with appearances and materialistic in the extreme. But she holds information about Harper’s father, and, unknowingly, about Harper herself. It seems there was more to Harper’s temporary death — the one that lasted all of two minutes and gave her the ability to see and move about in the Grey — than was immediately apparent.
Harper returns to Seattle in response to an urgent summons from Edward Kammerling, the vampire who rules over all of Seattle’s other vampires. It’s not that Harper likes him – far from it – but the vampire is too powerful for Harper to ignore or snub. Kammerling hires her to travel to England to find out why the keeper of his accounts in that part of the world has gone silent. Harper is actually happy to have the excuse, because she’s been having nightmares about her former boyfriend, Will Novak, and wants to make certain that he’s okay.
London is where things start getting really nasty. There is an order of vampires that is sufficiently different and more powerful as to be very nearly another species, the asetem-ankh-astet. As one might guess from their name, they are Egyptian in origin, and have a leader called a Pharaohn. The Pharaohn, who has been maneuvering to get Harper into his clutches for reasons as yet unknown, is Wygan, the disc jockey who inserted a tangle of Grey into Harper in an earlier book. Wygan has teamed up with a vampire Harper greatly fears and whom she had believed dead, all to capture Harper and, apparently, kill and resurrect her yet again — with dire consequences to be expected, but again, their nature is mysterious. These asetem have captured and are torturing Will as a means to get Harper under their control, and she needs to find a way to rescue them without becoming a tool for these horrible creatures to use to their own ends.
Richardson’s writing is improving the more she writes. She is making people and places more and more visible for the reader, such as in describing a man this way:
He was a tall man who stooped horribly and had a small potbelly, so he looked like a numeral six. His hair had thinned into a monk’s tonsure and the bags under his eyes were heavier than those in an industrial laundry. Even pale in death, his nose, cheeks, and ears were reddened by the spiderweb veins of alcohol abuse.
It’s not an elegant description, but it’s perfect for the noir tone of this series. And Richardson does noir dialogue pretty well, too: “I fake sangfroid really well. Just close your eyes and think of ice cream.” It was hard for me to read that line and not hear Lauren Bacall say to Humphrey Bogart, “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” in To Have and Have Not.
Richardson has also ramped up the quality of her plotting. This is a nice, tight novel in which everything happens for a reason. Despite the length of the book, nothing is extraneous. Richardson has done her homework in the byways of London, delving into historical geography even down to the sewers. Reading about Kat slipping into and out of temporaclines in order to figure out what’s going on is a great pleasure.
Beware: this book doesn’t solve all, or even most, of the mysteries it posits. For that, you need to go on to the fifth book in the series, Labyrinth — assuming that Labyrinth has all the answers. I don’t know yet, as I’ve just started it, right on the heels of finishing Vanished. I’m rather glad that I didn’t discover this series until now, as a wait between Vanished and Labyrinth would have been unendurable. This way I get to fully immerse myself in Richardson’s world. I’m glad I’m reading about it and not living in it, heaven knows, but it sure is fun to read about Harper’s many perils.