The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman

The road to fame…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Hoping to capitalise on her recent success in a TV remake of Jane Eyre and at the same time hoping that a change of scene will help her get over a difficult breakup, young British actress Mia Eliot has come to LA to do a round of auditions arranged by her agent. While waiting at one such audition she falls into conversation with Emily, another actress there for the same audition. Emily is called in just as her car is about to go over its time in the parking lot and Mia agrees to go feed the meter for her, so Emily hands over her car key and wallet. But when Mia gets back to the audition waiting room there’s no sign of Emily and she can’t find her anywhere. Mia is not one to give up easily though and she begins to ask questions about Emily, unaware that she’s straying into danger…

This was a book of two halves for me. The first half, where we get to know Mia and learn a lot about what it’s like to be a screen actress just at the beginning of what looks set to be a glittering, award-strewn career, I found both interesting and hugely enjoyable. The second half, when we get deep into the mystery of what has happened to Emily, becomes increasingly less credible as it goes along, with Mia taking extreme risks with both her safety and the career she has worked so hard to build, all for a woman she met for only a few minutes. Given the Hollywood setting, it’s unsurprising but disappointing that the #MeToo trend soon gets mixed into a plot which seems at the beginning as if it’s going to be intriguing and original.

It was only after I finished reading and did my usual googling that I discovered Catherine Steadman is indeed a successful screen actress in her own right – I’m so out of touch! That explains why all the stuff about auditions and screen tests and awards and so on feels so authentic. I found Mia very likeable, still with stars in her eyes and not yet ruined by fame. I liked that Steadman allowed her to be good at her chosen career, and not too angst-ridden over it. Mia approaches each audition professionally, and Steadman shows how an actress prepares – learning the scenes, choosing appropriate clothes for the role, deciding what accent to use, etc. She gives us a good idea of how soul-destroying it must be for the less successful actors, turning up for audition after audition without much hope of ever landing the big part. Mia is not in that position – her role as Jane Eyre has attracted public and critical praise, so she’s one of the lucky ones. She’s not yet in a position to pick and choose which roles she will play, but it’s clear she soon will be. And I particularly liked that Steadman didn’t force false modesty onto her – Mia knows she’s talented, works hard at her job and can tell when she’s turned in a good performance, but she’s still young and inexperienced enough to be thrilled by the starry company she’s now keeping.

Catherine Steadman

I also enjoyed the plot until it spiralled over the credibility line in the latter stages. Emily’s disappearance is done very well, with definite vibes of The Lady Vanishes. When Emily apparently shows up again Mia knows she’s not the same person, but can’t find any way to prove that. Being alone in LA where she knows hardly anyone, there’s a real feeling of almost spooky danger when odd things begin to happen around her. Or do they? Like most of the people she tells her story to, the reader has to wonder if Mia is strictly reliable – could the whole thing be an invention born out of the stress she’s feeling over her breakup?

Overall the strengths of this one well outweighed the weaknesses for me, but I did wish the resolution had maintained the level of credibility and authenticity that I loved so much in the first half. However, although in the end the plot may have turned out to be rather forgettable, Mia’s character and her very believable life as an actress on the cusp of international success will, I’m sure, stick in my mind for much longer. I’ll be looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Simon & Schuster via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

35 thoughts on “The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman

  1. This book sounds very intriguing. I’m sorry it went over the credibility edge though. Yikes on the aspects that seem forgettable.
    When I saw the photo, I thought Catherine Steadman looked familiar. When I searched for her online I found that she played Julia Bertram in Mansfield Park and Mabel in Downton Abbey!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems to be the norm for this kind of thriller to lose touch with credibility, so I’m sure I’m just out of synch! Yes, I was surprised to discover she was in those roles too – amazing that she’s managing two very successful careers and so young – I’m a tiny bit jealous… 😉

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  2. It does sound like such an interesting premise, FictionFan! And I thought, too, of The Lady Vanishes as I was reading that part of your post. I don’t know much about preparing for roles and auditions, either, so that part would interest me. But the ‘credibility gap’ is increasingly annoying to me as I get older and crankier. I would definitely mind it here. Still, it sounds like a solid read otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were lots of touches of The Lady Vanishes in the first half and she did them very well – bringing them up to date and finding ways of making them believable. Shame she went too far over the credibility line for me towards the end, but sadly it’s happening more and more often. I’ll be interested to read more from her though – she certainly has talent.

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  3. How disappointing the second half of this one failed to live up to your expectations, FF, but how wonderful the first half did! I wonder if this author got side-tracked after she’d written the first half and, when she returned to writing, went in another direction? That happens, of course, but a good editor really should catch glitches like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It felt to me that when she was “writing what you know” – all the acting stuff – that she did it very well, but that the underlying plot got away from her. Maybe trying to make it more thrilling than it needed to be? But you know me – always grumpy about that credibility line! I’m out of synch with modern crime fiction, for sure. 🙂

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    • I think maybe she tried to hard to make it thrilling – sometimes it’s better to have a believable plot than a lot of unbelievable thrills! But she certainly has talent, and I’ll read more from her…

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  4. I am very much intrigued! I find with contemporary thrillers there is often a “credibility line” where one has to decide if one is going to just “go with it” because the story is too exciting or ends up putting the book down in disgust because the author went too far. I’m glad this one stayed interesting enough for you to keep going.

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    • Yes, and a lot of it depends on mood – sometimes I can ignore the basic unbelievability but sometimes it throws me right out of the story. I really enjoyed her writing though, and all the stuff about what it’s like to be a newly successful actress… 😀

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  5. I think it all depends on my mood at the time as to whether credibility plays a big factor in my enjoyment of a book. I’m not usually drawn to things Hollywood/LA related, so I’m not sure this would be one for me anyway. I’m glad the good outweighed the bad for you!

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    • Yes, I’m sure it’s all to do with mood with me too, which always makes it a bit unfair on the author! What I liked about this one was that she didn’t make Hollywood either too glamorous or too grotty – she kinda showed it in a professional light with people working hard. It was interesting, especially knowing she must know about the life first-hand!

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  6. I’m not a big thriller reader so I don’t think this is for me but it sounds like there was a lot to recommend it. Impressive that the author has carved out a second successful career so quickly (I’ve also just googled!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This does sound interesting, and I like the idea that the narrator may be unreliable. I empathize with the soul-destroying part as well. I think it’s like that for all artistic endeavors as well. There are so many talented people out there who’s work we never see, whether they’re in visual arts, theater, film, photography, publishing, etc. So many give up on artistic careers because what they’ve done never catches on, and they can’t make a living. That’s why so many children’s book writers do so much more than write children’s books, for example.

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    • I liked that she showed the soul-destroying aspect without using the main character to do it – it meant she could also show what it’s like to be on the verge of a really successful career, earned through talent and hard work. But it’s so often luck – I’ve read many books by authors who sell practically nothing that have been as good as, or better, than many of the bestsellers I’ve thrown at the wall. And that must be really soul-destroying!

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  8. Too bad the story became a bit daft here, it sounds as though the thriller got in the way of an original and authentic story. There must be something in the whole create what you know idea. Dispite the weaknesses, I would probably still read this though, I’m always up for stories about actors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’d enjoy the stuff about the acting – it really felt so much more authentic than it’s usually portrayed in books – less glamour and angst, fewer divas, and more hard work and camaraderie. I wish she’d managed to stay within the credibility line but I’ll still happily read more from her – she has talent. Though isn’t it sickening that someone should have two successful careers so young – I think I hate her… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Books like this always make me wonder how much effort I would go to for a stranger in this situation. I feel like I would just tell the police what I know and then continue on with my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought she did the acting stuff really well, avoiding the usual clichés about both the glamour and the sordid side of it. She showed how professional actors approach the whole thing professionally, if that makes sense!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This does sound like an interesting setting for a book, even though thrillers aren’t really my genre. It always stretches my credibility when people are willing to massively uproot their lives for someone they just met! (This is also my problem with a lot of romance novels). Very impressive that she’s good at both acting and writing, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thrillers really do depend on people behaving in crazy ways and involving themselves in things most of us would cross the road to avoid! In this case, I’d have handed the wallet and keys to the police and then forgotten about it, but what a short book that would have been… 😉 Yes, these multi-talented people make me feel quite green… 😀

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  11. I had never heard about Catherine Steadman before either, so don’t be too hard on yourself haha

    Interesting that a successful actress had tried her hand at writing a book, I’m always curious how people find the time when they have another job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I watch so little TV and film these days that I never know who any celebrities are! 😂 I hate her though – successful actress, successful author, gorgeous… ugh! 🤢😜

      Like

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