Near Dijon, France, Rex Hofman and Saskia Ehlvest-his love interest-are heading to a hotel in Nuits-St. Georges in Burgundy; they are on vacation. After a brief spat while on the road, they pull into a gas station called TOTAL and make up. Saskia plans to drive the second leg of their trip, but before she does so, she needs to do a bathroom and drink break. Affectionally, she wants to buy a soda for herself and a beer for Rex, the latter being a researcher and journalist whose speciality seems to be directed more towards the sciences. While Saskia heads into the gas station, Rex waits in line at the pumps to tank up his car. When done, he parks the car and keeps himself entertained with some light exercise and whatnot. In that period, he is overcome by a sense of bliss at how lucky he is to have a woman like Saskia as his girlfriend, for she is definitely marriage material. However, as time passes, Saskia does not return to him, and he wonders where the heck she is. Searching frantically throughout the gas station, Saskia has totally vanished, and her whereabouts are unknown. This sends Rex on an eight-year odyssey that consumes him not only financially but mentally as well. He does a media blitzkrieg of a campaign which yields no clues; people tell him that she probably left and is simply living another life. He does not buy it, and so he embarks on a maddening journey that involves "witnesses" and psychics. Even his current girlfriend, Lieneke, who knows of Rex's heartbreaking past, cannot pull him away from his maddening desire to know what happened to his missing girlfriend, Saskia, for it is the not knowing that is killing him.
Quietly lurking in the background is another man; his name Raymond Lemorne, a loving spouse and father of two adoring daughters. He is a popular chemistry teacher who lives in Autin, in the district of Saone-et-Loire. By all accounts, he leads a rather idillic life. He is respected, good at his job and has a demeanor that is affable and approachable. One day, a young girl was drowning, and he saved her before the eyes of his family. Due to that incident, he became a superhero who had accrued family laurels. However, something is simply not right-in-the-head with Raymond, for if he can be brave superhero, can he not also be a methodical, villainous monster? So a scheme is hatched and perfected upon repeatedly. He plans to do evil on an innocent young woman, preferably a mother. He hunts for the perfect prey, scouting various locations and acting out scenarios in which to trap his victim. As it happens, he too was at the TOTAL gas station and ultimately has the answers that Rex Hofman is desperately seeking. Witnessing the media campaign of the beleaguered Rex, Raymond confesses that he is that man that Rex is looking for, the one who can help him acquire the horrific truth. However, he will not give it to him willingly; he must go through the motions as Saskia did. Then he will have his truth. Ever so compliant, Rex agrees to do whatever is asked of him, and he follows to the end. He must drink a chloroformed laced coffee and go to Lemorne's secluded log cabin in the woods. All eventually gets revealed. The answer is disturbing, and it will leave readers shuddering.
The Vanishing was a tightly woven novel with a very credible and unnerving plot that could have been ripped from current-day newspaper headlines. It is short, fast-paced and evocative of the dark side of warped human nature. The inspiration behind two good films of the same name, The Vanishing was a simple yet stellar read.