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A FEW FLAWS TRUMPED BY CLEVER THRILLS

The plot of Vanished puzzles, but its setting and characters charm.

Washington Post

The opening scene of Joseph Finder's new novel is a humdinger. Late one rainy evening, a middle-aged couple, Lauren and Roger Heller, walk back to their Mercedes after an evening at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. Just as they reach a deserted stretch of street, Roger realizes he's left his car keys at the restaurant and sprints back. Left alone, Lauren is attacked from behind. The last thing she hears before she falls victim to a serious concussion is the voice of her husband, shouting the cryptic words, "Why her?"

If you attempt to make sense of the plot that follows, you, too, may feel as woozy as Lauren does upon awakening in the hospital two days later. Finder writes in the rat-a-tat, short-chapters-always-ending-with-a-cliffhanger style perfected by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.

Sometimes, though, in the service of those boffo endings, Finder's plot doesn't add up; worse, he occasionally doesn't play fair with the reader. Irritating, but not a deal breaker. This is a thriller to enjoy for its Washington locales, convincing familiarity with cutting-edge spy gadgetry and taut action scenes. If you're looking for logic, read Kant.

When Lauren comes to, she learns Roger has disappeared. Enter our hero, Roger's estranged brother, Nick. Whereas Roger followed in their father's footsteps and became a financial wizard, Nick served in the Special Forces in Iraq and now works as an operative for a corporate espionage firm. Nick is a likable tough guy who can justifiably boast that "after five years of working the dark side of Washington, D.C., both in the government and out . . . I knew someone in just about every three-letter government agency." Most of those contacts are tapped as Nick scrambles to protect Lauren and his slacker teenage nephew from sadistic mercenaries while racing to find out the real reason for Roger's vanishing act.

Any thriller that uses Dean & DeLuca's chocolate chip cookies as an investigatory tool deserves kudos for cleverness. What Vanished lacks in narrative coherence, it makes up for in invention.

Vanished

By Joseph Finder

St. Martin's, 388 pages, $25.99

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