Built to Rec

8 Clues Ellery/Reed Belong Together in the Ellery Hathaway Books

Joanna Schaffhausen's codependent sleuths are approaching Mulder-and-Scully levels of UST, and that's a lot.
The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen

Relationship: Ellery Hathaway and Reed Markham
Fandom: Joanna Schaffhausen’s Ellery Hathaway book series: The Vanishing Season (2017), No Mercy (2019), and All the Best Lies (2020)
Time Investment: Two books (and counting)
Recommended for: Romantic suspense and mystery fans, generally, and Mulder/Scully shippers who count “Irresistible” and “Paper Hearts” among their favorite casefiles, specifically

Note: This article contains spoilers for Ellery and Reed’s relationship arc in The Vanishing Season and its sequel No Mercy. You’ll also find speculation about what could happen in Book 3, All the Best Lies. Scout’s honor that this article does not reveal major plot twists or unmask any murderers.

Trigger warning: The books include descriptions of kidnapping, rape, murder, and other acts of extreme violence.

Ever since The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully ruined me for all other TV romances over a decade ago, I’ve been on the perpetual hunt for another Crime-Fighting Duo with Inconvenient Feelings who could inspire such unwavering devotion in me. Kidnapping-survivor-turned-cop Ellery Hathaway and her one-time rescuer, now-partner FBI agent Reed Markham, are just such an OTP. (C.B. Strike‘s Cormoran/Robin are another, but that’s a different story.) Ellery and Reed may be chasing down flesh-and-blood monsters rather than aliens, but the electric connection between them will feel familiar.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their creator, Joanna Schaffhausen, got her start writing X-Files fanfic in the ’90s. She understands what made Mulder and Scully worth obsessing over, and she ruthlessly exploits those qualities to keep us coming back for more of Ellery/Reed in her own book series. Good thing their slow but inevitable slide into decidedly nonplatonic territory is worth every minute of lost productivity or sleep.

I know what you’re thinking: The X-Files didn’t exactly give Mulder and Scully their due. Why should romantic suspense readers and shippers take a chance on a series of mystery novels without a guaranteed HEA? Glad you asked. First, because I need a support group who will see me through every ~disinterested~ appraisal of each other’s looks and one VERY telling use of the word “honey” (more on that later). Selfish, but true. Second, because all the evidence I’ve collected suggests we’re dealing with an author who values a satisfying ending as much as we do. I’m pretty well convinced that theirs is a love story that will end happily.

To judge for yourself whether this is a case worth pursuing, here are 8 clues that I believe add up to an eventual Ellery/Reed endgame…

She’s “The Girl Who Lived”…and he’s the FBI profiler who found her.

On her 14th birthday, Abigail Ellery Hathaway makes a fateful decision–she hops on her bicycle for a late-night ride around her neighborhood and crosses paths with a serial killer on the prowl. Coben is a sadistic psychopath who has already raped, murdered, and severed the hands of 13 other girls when he snatches Abby mere yards from the apartment where she lives with her mom and older brother.

For days, she endures horrific abuse and fights to stay alive in a closet that’s been nailed shut. Even so, she’s near death when help arrives at last in the form of a young FBI profiler who follows a hunch and stumbles onto Coben’s hideout. Agent Reed Markham has no idea, when he carries the missing girl out of the closet and into safety, what a profound impact Abby Hathaway will have on the rest of his life. Their fates become entwined.

How’s that for a helluva complicated history?

She’s become a small-town cop, while he’s at risk of losing his badge.

Fast-forward 14 years and we find our heroes in markedly different circumstances, yet bound to collide again, like some real soulmate-mark shit. Abby, who now goes by Ellery, has worked hard to create a peaceful life for herself, training as a police officer in Boston before moving to the quiet town of Woodbury, Massachusetts, where no one recognizes her. Or so she believes, until she starts receiving vaguely threatening, unsigned birthday cards that imply someone knows her story.

What really bothers her, though, are the disappearances of townspeople over the last few years–one per summer, right around her birthday. Her boss and sometime lover, the chief of police, may believe it’s coincidental, but Ellery knows foul play’s involved. So she calls the one person she trusts implicitly, despite not having set eyes on him in 14 years: Reed Markham.

The man’s in the middle of his own crisis–his wife has asked him for a divorce, for one, and the FBI put him on paid “stress” leave after a botched case–but he can’t say no to Abby/Ellery. Reed agrees to fly up from Virginia to review the missing persons files, figuring he’ll check on her and get some closure on that chapter of his life. He couldn’t be more wrong.

They’re bonded for life in a way no one else will ever understand.

Reed felt utterly powerless visiting Abby in her hospital room all those years ago, so he handed her his card and told her to call if she ever needed anything. He never dreamed she actually would, especially after he wrote a best-selling book about the Coben case that included her, albeit with a different name to protect her identity.

Here he is in Woodbury now, though, coming face-to-face not with the little girl named Abby he keeps in his memory, but with the strong, capable, full-grown woman in her place, Ellery. And he immediately sees she’s a force to be reckoned with, a dogged investigator and protector of innocents who’s determined to get to the bottom of these disappearances.

For all that he saved her life, Reed didn’t really know Abby, the girl. In mere days, though, it becomes obvious that he understands the woman implicitly. Why? They’re two of a kind. Separately, they may be a bit of a hot mess, but together, they click into high gear and spark off of each other in the best way possible.

Ellery will always believe in Reed, the brilliant profiler who found her, even when he no longer has faith in himself. And Reed won’t ever need to be told why Ellery self-consciously pulls at her sleeves (to hide the scars at her wrist) or nails her closet doors shut (because wouldn’t you?).

Fox Mulder once said to Dana Scully: “You make me a whole person.”

It’s like that.

He can be his workaholic self with her.

A career spent crisscrossing the country, jetting from one crime scene to another, is bound to take a toll on your marriage. Reed learns this the hard way. Still, as much as he loves his estranged wife, Sarit, and wants to come home to her and their young daughter, Tula, there’s one thing he can’t promise–that he’ll give up his job.

Like Ellery, he feels a keen responsibility to help others, even at great personal cost. If his profile can save even one life, he’s duty-bound to be there to compile it. It’s a lonely road he’s chosen, for sure, but it’s also one that has led him straight back to Ellery. She shares his tireless devotion–some may even say addiction–to the work.

They don’t have to pretend with each other but can be exactly who they are, for better or worse. Give them a case and watch them ditch everything else to throw themselves into it wholeheartedly. Unhealthy? Very probably. Effective? Undoubtedly.

Where anyone else would cut and run when a serial killer zeroes in, these two only plant their feet and dare the psychopath to make another move. They may not be the type to count on for PTA bake sales or family dinners, but you can be damn sure they’ll shield the ones who are.

She feels safe with him.

No Mercy by Joanna Schaffhausen

Ellery hasn’t invited a man into her house in…well, ever, but she breaks her rule for Reed. And who could blame her, because back when the whole country was searching for her, he was the only one who could find her. He’s the only reason she’s alive today–if she can’t trust him, then who can she trust? No one, that’s who.

So while it’s true that one good deed doesn’t a hero make, Reed quietly proves himself to be an honorable man through and through, setting Ellery at ease as much as is possible for her post-Coben. She barely protests when he basically moves in following a credible threat to her life, and their sleeping arrangements only get cozier in No Mercy (she says with absolutely ZERO context, because you really oughta see for yourself, especially if you like hurt-comfort scenarios and might like to see a little endearment like “honey” slip out in a vulnerable moment !!!!) He even cooks for her, y’all!

What I’m saying is that they take care of each other. At the rate they’re going, surely (SURELY) it’s only a matter of time until they decide to drop the hotel pretext altogether and actually move in together.

I want to believe.

Her dog loves him.

Ellery isn’t the only one who feels better when a certain fed’s around. Speed Bump, her constant canine companion, is Reed’s #1 fan, even if the feeling is not exactly mutual. (So he says, though you’ll notice there’s no real heat behind his grumbling about slobber and dog hair.) Since we all know dogs are excellent judges of character, Bump’s approval bodes well for the partners’ longterm relationship, whatever form that takes.

Plus, you just know that Tula would be over the moon to have a pet. And what single dad doesn’t need all the brownie points he can get?!

That reluctant, burgeoning attraction.

Understandably, given how they met, a romantic relationship couldn’t be further from Ellery and Reed’s minds in The Vanishing Season, even if we–seasoned romance readers and/or self-proclaimed ship whores that we are–can sense the potential a mile away.

To be fair, the list of reasons they shouldn’t move in that directions is a long one, with plenty of merit. Besides the power imbalance inherent in their earliest interactions, there’s the not-inconsiderable age difference. Plus the perfectly fair question of whether Ellery’s teenage hero worship could be clouding her judgment when it comes to him, or if her interest in Reed is merely transference. And on Reed’s side, you’d be forgiven for wondering if he’s truly capable of seeing Ellery as his equal, given that he knows better than anyone what she went through as a teenager and was once charged with protecting her from further harm.

Then there’s the fact that they work together now, and, well, everyone knows it’s a bad idea to date your partner.

As we see time after time, though, the heart wants what the heart wants, and it’s clear from their first case together that Ellery and Reed are two halves of the same heart. They never know who they are quite so well as when they’re doing their thing together. And they’re never such sad sacks as when they’re apart and pretending not to miss each other. This becomes more and more evident in No Mercy, in which both seem to wake up to each other’s looks and the physical attraction between them.

That UST will be RST before much longer, mark my words.

Everyone assumes they’re together.

From Reed’s ex to Ellery’s ex to a fellow cop who met them all of five seconds ago, anyone who encounters the pair seems to come away believing that they’re together–or that they wish they were. Maybe it’s the way he hops on a plane at a moment’s notice for her, or the way she looks at him with a fiery awareness no other man has managed to kindle. Or maybe it’s simply that they tend to orbit around each other, conspicuously careful not to touch, their every interaction imbued with suffused longing they’re obviously only beginning to recognize themselves.

Whatever little signals these third-party observers are picking up, their sly comments calling out Reed and Ellery on their mutual pining just confirm the truth of this series: it’s Ellery + Reed 5ever.

Case closed.


P.S. Book 3 in the series, All the Best Lies, publishes February 11, 2020! The synopsis is a complete tease, AND I LOVE IT. Just imagine how much hand-holding these two are gonna need from each other as they uncover dark family secrets. In fact, they’re probably gonna need to CUDDLE ABOUT IT. Meep!


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