A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed "The Informationist", the first installment of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. The series features a very enigmatic, evolved version of Lisbeth Salander. Vanessa Munroe has had a non-traditional life...a child of African missionaries, raised and trained by gun-running mercenaries, and now offers a service of getting information to the highest bidder. She is fluent in over 20 languages and can walk into any country or situation and blend.
Stevens has created a worthy protagonist who captured my imagination. I believe she is creating "one of those series" where it isn't necessarily about the present case, but about Vanessa. You just want more of Vanessa.
Synopsis: Vanessa's best friend and assistant, Logan, has come to her begging for help. Eight years ago, the five year-old daughter of a good friend was abducted by a cult called "The Chosen" and spirited away over the Mexican border. Up until now, this group had moved from country to country and kept the girl hidden, but a team of adult survivors of the cult (Logan included) have recently discovered her general location. He needs Vanessa to infiltrate the cult and get her back.
With the help of Miles Bradford, security pro and provoker of sexual tension, Vanessa must cast aside her demons from her childhood and from her recent time in Africa, kick an addiction and get her head around the job at hand. A job she has only accepted because of her loyalty to Logan. We are also offered a peek into the abducted girl's life, and the horrific abuses she must endure under the guise of God's love.
Drawing on Taylor Stevens' real-life experience of being raised in a religious cult, the reader is provided a rare and frightening trip into a mysterious world only imagined by other authors.
My thoughts: Before I knew of Stevens' background, I was already impressed with the characters she had created...vivid, flawed, fully-realized people you genuinely liked, and maybe even feared just a little. This is the stuff that keeps readers coming back. But when I discovered that Stevens lived her formative years in a communal apocalyptic cult, I was overcome with a a reverent admiration for what she had accomplished in her life. As a child and adolescent, she found herself moving from country to country, a street beggar and worker bee, her education never progressing past the age of 12. In her early 20's, she broke free and vowed to never live a life of regrets, so she taught herself the craft and began to write (and write well, I might add). This is one strong individual, and someone that I will fervently support for as long as she remains in the business.
I'm impressed that she didn't use her debut novel (The Informationist) to draw on her personal experiences in the cult. Instead she took her time, built her foundation, then exorcised her demons in Book 2. There are messages within the story concerning the victims and survivors of religious cults, but never does it come across as overbearing. It just reverberates of credibility, which makes it all the more impactful.
I enjoyed getting to know Logan a little better. He was a minor character in Book 1, but in the limited time he spent on the page, the reader senses that there is an entire book's worth of story inside the man waiting to be told. And we get more Miles Bradford, who forces a softer side to Vanessa.
A home run I'd call this sequel. I might even say it is better than the first, by a hair. If you are interested in this new series, I'd recommend reading both of them though. There is an incredible amount of baggage that Vanessa drags with her from her experiences in "The Informationist", and that knowledge makes this read all the more rewarding.
A few words about the audio production: As with "The Informationist", this audio is narrated by Hillary Huber, an absolutely flawless voice for the character of Vanessa. I pray that in future installments they are able to retain her, because her smoky, slightly sexy, slightly badass audio portrayal is perfection.
4.75 out of 5 stars