The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe

A young Dutch couple named Rex and Saskia are on holiday in France, when they stop at a service station.  Saskia goes inside to buy some cold drinks, and disappears, never to be seen again.  Eight years later, Rex is still haunted by memories of Saskia, and the mystery behind her disappearance, and he launches a campaign in the French press, to see if he can unearth the truth.  He then meets a man who can answer all of his questions – but how much does he want to learn the truth?

This was such an unusual book.  It’s very short (115 pages), but but very gripping.  There is a plot device which is rare in psychological mysteries – halfway through the book, the reader finds out exactly what happened to Saskia, and who is responsible for her disappearance.  This part of the story is told in detail, explaining about the life of the protaganist and what led him to the actions he committed.  A genuinely creepy psychopath emerges from the pages – a man without emotion, who seems to plan his life in a logical and cold hearted way.

The writing is very spare, with no unnecessary words, and had a ‘detached’ quality to it.  It is hard to feel much empathy for Rex – indeed he comes over as a somewhat unfeeling man, in his attitudes towards women especially – but the driving force behind the story is the reader’s desire to learn Saskia’s fate, and then the witnessing of Rex learning the same thing.  Rex has been driven almost to the point of madness by his not knowing, but he also seems apathetic about his own life, with no real enjoyment in anything anymore.

A genuine mystery then, but one where the mystery is how far one man will go to have his questions answered, when the reader already knows the answers.  Unusual and intriguing, it made me want to seek out more work by this author.

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