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Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open    by John Feinstein order for
Vanishing Act
by John Feinstein
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Here's another action-packed sports mystery featuring future journalists, eighth graders Susan Carol Anderson from Goldsboro, NC, and Stevie Thomas from Philadelphia, PA. The duo made their debut in sportswriter John Feinstein's Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery, which spotlighted Susan Carol and Stevie in an exciting jaunt through college basketball and player payoffs. Vanishing Act enters the world of pro-tennis, specifically the tournaments held in Flushing Meadows, NY.

Susan Carol and Stevie have not seen each other since they tapped the headlines from the Final Four, but have kept in touch via IM's. Their invite and credentials to attend the U.S. Open as reporters are arranged by Bobby Kelleher, a columnist for the Washington Herald. In Manhattan, they are housed by Susan Carol's uncle, Brendan Gibson, who recently started his own players' agency. One of his clients is fifteen-year old Evelyn Rubin, who is playing in her first major tournament.

The audience anxiously awaits the match between Russian favorite Nadia Symanova and Joanne Walsh. Enter Walsh, but all grow restless and worried when Symanova does not appear. 'A gaggle of security men came sprinting from the tunnel ... followed by men in blazers, both of them barking into walkie-talkies'. The umpire's voice announces a postponement on the PA system. Word spreads quickly that Nadia has been kidnapped, and the culprits are reported to be the SVR (Russian CIA once known as the KGB). More rumors raise tension, as the media reports that Symanova was planning to apply for American citizenship.

Kelleher assigns Susan Carol to check out the junior girls' locker room, and Stevie to the players' lounge, while Kelleher goes to the men's locker room. The story is huge, 'the most famous player in the world has gone missing', and the heat is on as Walsh's agent is screaming for a win by default. The NYPD and the NY FBI field office prevent anyone from leaving the grounds. Stevie and Susan Carol gather info that player Rubin had talked with Symanova as she left the lockers, and rep Hughes Norwood was seen talking to Symanova as she headed for the court. The latter puzzles Kelleher, as 'agents don't usually mess with their players just before a match'.

Even in the face of danger, Stevie confirms the sleuths' readiness to be involved, 'Of course, we are up to it. Intrigue is our specialty'. Stevie and Susan Carol gather clues, adding names to their suspect list. Among them are Symanova's parents who seem distraught, though the dad's demeanor is odd. Agent Norwood's movements and meetings with a movie producer are questionable. And they examine the draw sheet to find out who would benefit most from a kidnapping. Agent Tom Ross, the dealmaker with the tennis world-at-large - from shoe and clothing companies to tournament directors - has a reputation for paying 'under the table'. But, the most painful suspicion is of Susan Carol's uncle.

John Feinstein includes an overview of Flushing Meadows with its inside and outside courts, including the Arthur Ashe Stadium, plus descriptions of the Media Center, and various stats and information. Feinstein inserts both real and fictional names of agents, players, and media personnel, which is a bit distracting, considering Steve and Susan Carol are the key players. Readers without a knowledge of the game may be hampered by the terminology, and a Glossary plus a Cast of Characters would prove helpful. However, Vanishing Act is a good read, with splendiferous 'blistering serves well over 125 miles per hour, smashed returns, and sliced shots that kiss the line'.

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