Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Art of Vanishing (A Lila Maclean Academic Mystery)

Author:  Cynthia Kuhn
Genre:  Mystery, Suspense

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781635111729; 9781635111699
Henery Press
262 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $2.99 Amazon
February 28, 2017

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When Professor Lila Maclean is sent to interview celebrated author and notorious cad Damon Von Tussel, he disappears before her very eyes.  the English department is thrown into chaos by the news, as Damon is supposed to headline Stonedale University's upcoming Arts Week.  The chancellor makes it clear that he expects Lila to locate the writer and set events back on track immediately.  But someone appears to have a different plan:  strange warnings are received, valuable items go missing, and a series of dangerous incidents threaten the lives of Stonedale's guests.  After her beloved mother, who happens to be Damon's ex, rushes onto campus and into harm's way, Lila has even more reason to bring the culprit to light before anything - or anyone - else vanishes.

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When Lila Maclean, a professor at Stonedale University in Colorado, is requested by the school chancellor  to interview Damon Von Tussel, she's reluctant but has no choice but to agree.  So she attends a book reading by the reclusive author, who, on this particular night, does what he does best - is rude and belligerent, cutting the question and answer session short.  Unable to see him before the reading, she attempts to do so afterward, only to find that he has apparently vanished into thin air.  While she's not looking forward to explaining her failure of her task, she's going to have to - since Van Tussel is the featured author for Stonedale's Arts Week.

Damon Van Tussel is famous for only one book written decades ago and has been living off that laudatory fame since then,  But now he's managed to write another celebrated book and the university considers it a coup to even get him to speak.  Since no one can find him, it's soon discovered that Lila's mother, famous artist Violet O, once dated the man, so she's put in charge of seeing that he shows up.  After reluctantly asking her mother for help, he agrees to appear.

But then Lila receives a threatening email stating not to let Van Tussel speak "or else" and it seems the entire English department received the same but are, for the most part, blowing it off until during a featured panel discussing the author, one of the guest speakers is 'accidentally' hit on the head with a stage light, sending him to the hospital, and a loaned manuscript of Damon's famous novel is stolen from the library.

It doesn't help that Lila's mother shows up and decides to renew her relationship with the churlish author; a colleague does her best to sabotage her in front of everyone; and it's close to Valentine's Day and she begins to notice everyone around her seems to be coupled except her.  What's worse, she's worried about eventually getting tenure and is feeling the pressure to publish her dissertation, and soon.

While this isn't your typical mystery in that nobody dies, it is still a very good one.  It gives the reader an inside view into academia and the push to 'publish or perish' in order to gain tenure.  There is an intense desire to be recognized in the academic world, and that depends not only upon your teaching ability, but your ability to create something others will want to read - and find a university press willing to publish the same.  (One look at the giant e-tailer Amazon and you can see the massive collection of books published on various subjects).  It is this world that the novice professor is trying to navigate, and her insecurities show throughout the book.

Of which this is a very good thing as it makes Lila quite a believable character, watching her try to navigate her career and still manage her personal life, which sadly seems lacking when she looks around her; and while I do believe it is a good thing, in future books I wouldn't take it amiss if Lila were to develop a bit of a backbone and bite back at certain people (I'm looking at you, Simone).  There is a very cute subplot regarding this, and gives a nice break while we try to find out who wants Damon dead (and why).  We also learn more about her mother, who is a delight, and their relationship.  I do hope to see more of her in other books.

When we find out the reason for the many 'accidents' surrounding Damon, it comes together nicely.  Even though we are not given a murder to investigate, the book is so interesting and so involved that we stop looking for a body and just enjoy the process.  I think the nicest way I can summarize the end of the book is: when it rains it pours; but I implore you not to peek because the journey is as much fun as the destination.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Vanishing-Lila-Maclean-Academic-Mystery/dp/1635111692/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1891828376

More on Cynthia Kuhn's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/k/cynthia-kuhn/

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