Although the title of Max Tomlinson’s Vanishing in the Haight recalls the height of the 1960s, the bulk of the novel is actually set about ten years later. In 1978, Colleen Hayes doesn’t have a lot of options. She’s an ex-felon, so no one is willing to hire her for good money. Her daughter has a restraining order out against her. Her parole officer is an absolute creep. In spite of all this, a tip lands Colleen with a very lucrative temporary gig: finding out who brutally killed a runaway socialite/hippie girl in 1967.
After a brief, creepy prologue set in the Summer of Love on Haight-Ashbury, we meet Colleen in the derelict paint factory where she has been hired as a security guard. It’s the only job she can get, and comes with the “perk” of being able to live on the premises. (No one wants to rent to an ex-con and she can’t afford an apartment anyway.) One day, a lawyer for a very wealthy man. This man wants Colleen to solve his daughter’s murder before lung cancer kills him. He has heard from a retired San Francisco detective that she has the skills to do the job, even though she doesn’t have her PI license yet. (There are a lot of references to a previous murder that Colleen helped solve throughout the book but, as far as I can tell from Goodreads, this is not a sequel.) After some hemming and hawing, Colleen takes the job.
The mystery in Vanishing in the Haight is…odd. There are so few physical clues—and Colleen is facing a huge, still-active coverup that makes her job harder—that Colleen is going on hunches more than anything else. I suppose one could say that Colleen has good instincts for mysteries, but it’s probably more accurate to say that Colleen gets really lucky with her guesses. I was able to roll with things because Tomlinson threw in a few chapters from the killer’s perspective that back up Colleen’s theories.
The first third or so of Vanishing in the Haight had me frequently flinching at the casual sexual harassment Colleen constantly encounters. There are almost no good men in this book. At times, it seemed like Tomlinson was going out of his way to make all the men characters seem like reprehensible jerks. That and all of the references to the costs of things and bell bottoms seem like Tomlinson’s way of letting his readers know when the novel is set. While this is technically effective, it was irritating. I wish that there hadn’t been so many little things screaming at me, “This book is set in 1978!” This is not a subtle book.
While the book improves towards the end, I never warmed up to it. A lot of the characters are just traits in 1970’s costume and the plot is tenuous. I don’t recommend Vanishing in the Haight.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.