Vanishing FallsVanishing Falls by Poppy Gee
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on August 4, 2020
Pages: 432
View Title on Goodreads
Bantering Books Rating: one-half-stars

One of CrimeReads Most Anticipated Books of the Year!
"This literary thriller paints as vivid a landscape as any book coming out this summer...Gee creates a lush, tantalizing world that readers will want to travel into deeper and deeper."—CrimeReads
Celia Lily is rich, beautiful, and admired. She’s also missing. And the search for the glamorous socialite is about to expose all the dark, dirty secrets of Vanishing Falls…
Deep within the lush Tasmanian rainforest is the remote town of Vanishing Falls, a place with a storied past. The town’s showpiece, built in the 1800s, is its Calendar House—currently occupied by Jack Lily, a prominent art collector and landowner; his wife, Celia; and their four daughters. The elaborate, eccentrically designed mansion houses one masterpiece and 52 rooms—and Celia Lily isn’t in any of them. She has vanished without a trace.…
Joelle Smithton knows that a few folks in Vanishing Falls believe that she’s simple-minded. It’s true that Joelle’s brain works a little differently—a legacy of shocking childhood trauma. But Joelle sees far more than most people realize, and remembers details that others cast away. For instance, she knows that Celia’s husband, Jack, has connections to unsavory local characters whom he’s desperate to keep hidden. He’s not the only one in town with something to conceal. Even Joelle’s own husband, Brian, a butcher, is acting suspiciously. While the police flounder, unable to find Celia, Joelle is gradually parsing the truth from the gossip she hears and from the simple gestures and statements that can unwittingly reveal so much.  
Just as the water from the falls disappears into the ground, gushing away through subterranean creeks, the secrets in Vanishing Falls are pulsing through the town, about to converge. And when they do, Joelle must summon the courage to reveal what really happened to Celia, even if it means exposing her own past…

Bantering Books Review

Months ago, I made a promise to myself.

I swore to always write fair and honest book reviews. I swore to never pad ratings out of sympathy. I swore to never award unwarranted low ratings.

For honesty is always the best policy. To this belief, I cling tightly.

Honesty, however, is not always easy. It’s not fun to deliver bad news. It can be rather challenging. And it pains me to write the words that follow. It truly does.

But if I’m being honest, Poppy Gee’s latest mystery/thriller, Vanishing Falls, stands to be one of the worst novels I have ever read. It is mind-numbingly terrible. It is the kind of awful the literary world has not seen since Baldacci first published The Christmas Train. (Those of you who have read Baldacci’s holiday gem know exactly what I mean. Don’t even try to deny it.)

The premise of the novel is solid –

Deep within the Tasmanian rainforest lies Vanishing Falls, a town famous for its contentious past. Within Vanishing Falls sits Calendar House, a magnificent mansion owned by the Lily family and currently occupied by art collector, Jack, his socialite wife, Celia, and their four young daughters.

All is well with the Lily family — until Jack returns home one night and discovers that Celia has disappeared. Crazed with worry, Jack enlists the help of the local police, only to then somehow find himself to be the prime suspect in their investigation.

Where has Celia gone? Is it an abduction? A planned escape of her own orchestration? Or has something far more sinister and unfortunate happened to her?

And I will leave it at that. If I reveal any further information regarding the plot, I fear I may spoil the (minuscule bit of) fun of the outcome.

On its face, Vanishing Falls appears to be right up my alley. I love a good mystery; I love a good Gothic house. And there aren’t many stories set in a small town in the middle of the rainforest of Australia. A reader is hard-pressed to find a novel with a more unique scenic backdrop.

But all the enticing elements don’t mesh very well. The tone of the novel is scattered and ever changing. One minute it feels like you’re reading a gothic mystery. The next minute it feels like you’re reading a cozy. And then after that, it’s as if you’ve stepped into a time warp and switched to reading a historical mystery. Gee fails to successfully blend the various tones and genres together, resulting in a very bumpy and disjointed reading experience.

Plus, her prose is beyond rough and choppy. It’s infantile, as well. It lacks any sort of flow whatsoever, and the words trip and stumble over one another as you read them silently in your mind. Gee’s writing has no subtlety; she bluntly tells all to the reader, never shows.

And Gee’s characterization isn’t any better either. The narrative of Vanishing Falls is told through the alternating viewpoints of three separate characters – Jack, his friend, Cliff, and Joelle, a town resident – and all three are severely underdeveloped and flat. The secondary characters fare even worse.

Oh! I mustn’t forget to also mention the dialogue. Wooden, stiff, forced, awkward, and unnatural. Those five adjectives sum it up nicely.

Typically, I can somewhat overlook poor technical and stylistic writing skills in a novel if the story is at least entertaining. But in this case, I can’t even claim that to be true. Because Vanishing Falls is downright boring. The core mystery is not anything new, and it’s certainly not very clever. There aren’t any surprising, jaw-dropping twists. It takes way too long to discover exactly what happens to Celia. And it is so simple to predict the outcome and solve the mystery. The final revelation can be seen hundreds of pages away.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

Still, the setting is terrific! Yes. The Tasmanian rainforest is quite fantastic. (Look at that. I found one positive to share.)

Bottom line – Vanishing Falls is a dreadful chore of a read. I tried to like it. Really, I did. I stuck with it to the very end, hoping and thinking it would improve.

But if I’m being honest, it just never did.