The Disappearance by Efrem Sigel

March 19, 2011

Plot summary (with spoilers): Joshua and Natalie Sandler seem to lead an ideal life. Joshua is a successful New York-based business owner, while Natalie is a professional cellist. Their 13-year-old son Dan is an easygoing, well-liked boy who is respectful of his parents and does not at all fit the brooding, moody teen stereotype.

But the family’s world turns upside down when Dan disappears one day from their Massachusetts summer retreat known as The Hollow. There is initially a frantic search led by Joshua and Chief Sammons, but no one seems to have heard or seen anything on the morning Joshua disappeared.

As the days melt into weeks and then months, Joshua and Natalie slowly give up hope of ever seeing Dan alive again. Nevertheless, Joshua won’t rest until he finds out exactly what happened to his son — which he eventually does.


  • There were a few good scenes in this book. I particularly liked the passage near the end where Joshua fantasizes about a typical day with Dan: swimming, playing tennis, having a barbecue for dinner. That was truly heartbreaking considering what had happened by then.


  • There was so little urgency after Dan’s disappearance that I couldn’t help but feel that this book is inappropriately named. It should be called “The Aftermath” or something, because the focus is actually on what happens to Joshua and Natalie after Dan disappears. I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical procedural chronicling the search for Dan, but still… It was quite jarring for Dan to disappear on one page, and then have the author meander through flashbacks and so forth on the next.
  • It was really hard to develop any kind of connection to Joshua. Despite being the main character, he was written as distant and cold. I never felt his despair at losing Joshua, his frustration with the authorities’ lack of progress, or his guilt about cheating on Natalie. This was not a good character to spend the whole book with.
  • I’m not sure how it escaped both Joshua and Chief Sammons that one of Dan’s teen friends HAD to be involved somehow. The Tall Pines thing was a completely unnecessary distraction since Joshua and Natalie were not connected to that in any way. That whole plotline was stupid, and only served to pad the page count.
  • The whole scene where Joshua broke into that barn and retrieved files from a password-protected computer was ridiculous, from coming “prepared” with birth dates and license plate numbers to hiding behind a stack of boxes to prevent discovery.
  • Perhaps even more ridiculous was how Joshua wheedled confidential loan information out of the bank manager. First the bank manager refuses, citing the confidentiality problem. Then he relents as soon as Joshua says, “But this is very important.” Well, OK then. As long as it’s important….
  • I thought it was rather creepy that Joshua and Natalie named their second child Dana. Uh, replacement much? She won’t have issues later on or anything.

I thought The Disappearance by Efrem Sigel would be an interesting story about loss in the aftermath of an only child’s disappearance and death. But thanks to the coldness and distance of the parents, this was instead a fairly meaningless glimpse at the lives of two random people who just happened to lose a son. I give the book 1 star out of 5.

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