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The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman: the classic innocent abroad

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

An unwitting actor plunged into the harsh world of Hollywood. Her dogged determination to resolve a puzzling disappearance. The dangerous and sinister consequences of screenland power and ambition.

Mia Eliot heads to LA to escape a bad break-up, aspiring to make her name in the brittle glamour of the Hollywood film world. A strange encounter with a fellow actor at an audition leaves her unable to rest until she has uncovered the truth of Emily’s seeming disappearance.

The Hollywood reality

In this enjoyable thriller, The Disappearing Act, we are treated to an insider’s view of what it takes to make it in Hollywood, intertwined with Mia’s attempts to solve an increasingly disturbing mystery. Author Catherine Steadman, an actor herself, demonstrates the gruelling production mechanics and hard work needed to attend auditions and screen tests, let alone actually make a film. She combines this insight with increasing tension as we encounter the murky side of Hollywood’s power brokers, casting decision-makers and ambitious wannabees.

The actor turned sleuth

A twisty thriller, with the protagonist neither a cop nor a PI, is a refreshing change from some of the formulaic police procedurals and misanthropic detectives we encounter. Mia is a capable and intelligent character, inexperienced rather than completely foolish: at times, an accomplished and competent Jane Eyre; at others, the echo of a naïve Eliza Dolittle. Rather than the brash and confident stereotypical ‘strong women’ characters, we are often served up, she is a person trying to do the right thing with her amateurish sleuthing, despite her misgivings, which ultimately leads her into inevitable danger.

(If you enjoy a moody detective, you can't go wrong with DS Adam Tyler in Russ Thomas's Nighthawking. But I digress...)

Mystery and danger

The plot of The Disappearing Act progresses at a good pace and centres around the missing Emily and her seeming impersonator. Mia feels a responsibility to the unaccounted-for Emily and, despite reporting her disappearance to the police, is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. As Mia uncovers more about the disappeared Emily and her impersonator, the plot becomes more sinister and more engaging, and we learn more about the consequences of opposing the ambitious and unscrupulous forces within Hollywood.

A tense resolution

The story unravels through several clever twists and turns, which keeps the reader delightfully guessing and much involved as Mia gradually becomes a more calculating character as the narrative progresses. The Disappearing Act’s apogee doesn’t disappoint with an inventive and ambiguous highpoint and a relatively satisfying ending, where loose ends aren’t necessarily neatly tied up.

If you like a well-written, compelling thriller with a refreshingly unwary hero plunged into a glamorous and unfamiliar world, who finds herself compelled to take actions she didn’t know she was capable of, then you will enjoy The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman.

Happy reading!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for an ARC copy; much appreciated.

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