I’m pretty sure this is the first of Perry’s Jane Whitefield series. The concept is brilliant: Jane is a Seneca, from upstate New York, who helps people disappear. The later books are somewhat more functional, more pure thriller, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Perry’s a reliable source of pleasure and diversion. But I got an extra charge out of Vanishing Act this time around. It seemed to have an extra, unnecessary layer of circumstantial detail that Perry was almost compelled to include. Some of it was back story on Jane’s own family (full-blood Seneca father, anglo mother) and on the folkways of Indians in upstate New York. This must all have taken a lot of research on Perry’s part and I had the sense that he was sharing something he found very compelling: a way of life and a tight-knit community that stand in contrast to Jane Whitefield’s peripatetic metier, and in contrast to the thinly-rooted life of mainstream America. In a way Vanishing Act shares a lot with Craig Johnson’s wonderful The Cold Dish, which features a startling (and entirely successful) dream sequence involving a mystical Indian intervention in the anglo world.
Fundamentally, all of these Jane Whitefield books combine two enormously appealing plot devices: the character transformation (hello, Cinderella!) and the chase scene. Vanishing Act cranks that up further in that Jane’s “rabbit” — the guy she is steering to safety, away from the hunting dogs — turns out to be a traitor in his own right. So we see Jane both as vulnerable and capable. This is one of Perry’s great feats in this series; he doesn’t flinch away from the damage that Jane’s avocation does to her. Hence, possibly, the fact that there are only five of these books.
It’s also very clever that the final confrontation takes place in the woods. At first, it seems that the villain is dictating the terms of the duel, as he lures Jane deep into the trackless terrain of the Adirondacks. But she finally taps into her heritage and reclaims some Indian skills. Is it corny that she ends up painting her face and sticking feathers in her hair? Did Perry envision this as a scene in a movie? Doesn’t matter. I’m with her all the way.