Helen C. Escott’s Operation Vanished follows closely on the heels of her bestselling Atlantic Canadian thriller Operation Wormwood (2018, Flanker Press). While that book dealt with an investigation by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Operation Vanished has the RCMP investigating some unsolved abductions and murders of women back in the 1950s. Heading up the investigative team is RCMP Corporal Gail McNaughton, whose own father is a retired career Mountie. Her Staff Sergeant, Boyd Michaels assigns her a stack of files of missing and murdered persons whose files remain open since they are unsolved.
Staff Sergeant Michaels continued. “You’ll spend your first three months digging into these cases. I’ll warn you, don’t get too discouraged if you don’t get anywhere.”
“Really?” McNaughton picked up the first file. “Why is that?”
“You’re dealing with historical crimes.” Michaels leaned forward and took the next file off the pile. “Like we discussed last week before you went to see Mary Ryan, witnesses have passed away, memories fade, there are false confessions from nuts who want to be famous, psychics who convince the families they know where the body is.” He laid the folder back on the pile. “There was no such thing as DNA or even protecting the scene’s integrity back then. There’s some evidence collected from a few files, like clothing, or bodily fluid samples, but even with today’s science, results are very limited.”
“These are going to be challenging.” McNaughton looked at a black and white photo inside the file folder.
“Every tip has to be thoroughly investigated,” he continued “It causes a substantial amount of work, but as you know, we don’t close a file until we solve the case. I believe each new investigator brings new skills and a new set of eyes. Maybe you’ll close a few of these files.” He shrugged.
Undeterred, and loving a good mystery, Gail delves into her work. First, there is a missing child file that she investigates, then files of three women who were abducted sexually abused and murdered, all in different parts of the province. Another storyline involves that of Gail’s mother, who is in a senior’s care home due to her increasing dementia. The theme of memories and remembering is strong throughout Operation Vanished. McNaughton presses on despite her own insecurities, particularly when visited by the “Old Hag” a witch who brings nightmares along with her. One thing McNaughton is not insecure about is her hard-earned qualifications and her stand against “the old boy’s” network which is a constant fight for any visible minority in the RCMP (or any policing organization). She goes toe-to-toe with the second-in-command, Sergeant Wayne Harvey, on the issue of women in the force. This makes for added tension in her hectic work/life situation. Operation Wormwood is less of a so-called “cozy mystery” than Operation Wormwood. There is some coarse language, but no graphic violence, despite the subject matter.
One would like to see more of her characters such as RCMP Corporal Gail McNaughton, and her archivist/contact at The Rooms, Larry Morgan. With an enthusiastic archivist at her disposal, Gail (as well as the reader) are educated on various aspects of Newfoundland’s fascinating history. As they themselves admit, they make a great team! Ms. Escott’s experience as a retired civilian of the RCMP has made her privy to many aspects of life in an RCMP detachment and both books definitely profited from this. Operation Vanished is a must-read Newfoundland mystery-thriller!
Operation Vanished by Helen C. Escott
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