The queen of the psychological thriller, Val McDermid, proves exactly why she has earned that appellation with her latest offering, The Vanishing Point.
The crime-writing maestro, whose books have sold more than 10 million and who is read in 30 languages, has a gift for inducing gut-wrenching suspense and high anxiety. Disquiet is transferred as if by alchemy direct from the page into the mind. It's uncomfortable and compelling.
Whoever thought retiring to bed with a book is good for calming the nerves and inducing a good night's rest obviously hasn't got this UK writer on their bedside table.
Within the first six pages of this stand-alone thriller, Stephanie Harker, ghost writer and single guardian of an orphaned five-year-old boy, has the type of nightmare experience that no parent should ever have to face: the agony of witnessing her child being abducted while she tries and fails to alert those around her to what is happening.
In an agony of lost time, McDermid describes how the little lad is led away from sight and safety while his carer is forced into custody by a calculated misunderstanding (by the perpetrator of course) at a Chicago airport. You can imagine the type of border security intransigence that the situation provokes now we are post-9/11.
The writing of this initial sequence of events is so credible it is impossible not to physically react - even as the reader may discern somewhere in the back of their minds that they are being set up.
Then it all goes downhill for Stephanie.
If you are not acquainted with McDermid's books you may yet have met her most famous character: Dr Tony Hill, played by Robson Green from TV's Wire in the Blood. At this point there shouldn't be any doubt that the author who also penned the Lindsay Gordon and Kate Brannigan series - and who is a recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger and member of that hallowed company in the Hall of Fame - knows her psychos. You might even worry about how she knows so much about such dedicated murderous fruit loops. Another story perhaps . . .
The plot: McDermid whizzes us in and out of the recent past to explain how Stephanie wound up in the US with a boy she calls her son. The back-story involves TV reality starlet Scarlett Higgins (aka Scarlett Harlot), an affectionate tag afforded by UK tabloids, or red tops.
There's a pertinent quote at the beginning of this tale from Oprah Winfrey that says: "If you come to fame not knowing who you are, it will define you." Bear this in mind as you read.
In her profession as ghost writer, Stephanie is hired to pen Higgins' story, which means spending hours with the star, which in turn means - unexpectedly - the two become firm friends.
And then there's Stephanie's psycho boyfriend.
The Vanishing Point is a light read, a quick read, an engaging read from the sure hand of the delinquency doyenne, the felony femme fatal, the muse of misdemeanour, the mistress of malfeasance . . . you get the drift.