THE INFORMATIONIST by Taylor Stevens

Book Quote:

“Until last night the assignment had been business. Now it was personal. Someone had ordered her dead and had nearly succeeded in putting a bullet in her brain. Another circle, another strand of thought. If she followed the interdicted trail to Emily Burbank, the answers would come hunting, seeking her out. And when the answers presented themselves, she would take retribution….”

Book Review:

Review by Kirstin Merrihew В (MAR 8, 2011)

Lisbeth Salander and Vanessa Munroe share some commonalities: both experienced traumas in adolescence that cause them to disconnect to some degree in adulthood and display a few nearly sociopathic tendencies, both are superhumanly skilled with weapons and in command at the information-gathering game, both are extremely tenacious and are survivors, both share androgynous physical characteristics, both are willing to use sex as a tool but at heart do desire real intimacy, and both have few compunctions about taking vicious vengeance when personally threatened.

The Informationist is a drier name for a thriller than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and one can argue that Taylor Stevens’ new novel intends to piggyback success on the Salander trilogy phenomenon. However, be that as it may, The Informationist is a very compelling read in and of itself.

In brief, the plot revolves around Vanessa, now an adult based in Texas, being asked to take what, for her, is an unusual assignment. Normally, she handles information-gathering in obscure or little traveled developing countries for government agencies. This time, an oil billionaire named Richard Burbank offers her millions to find his daughter who has been missing in Africa for four years. Since she had fled the dark continent to start a new life in the U.S., Vanessa isn’t eager to go back and face her own dark past there, but she accepts the challenge. First she takes a side trip to Germany to interview a witness and then she and an associate of Burbanks’ (whom she would rather ditch because she prefers the lone wolf routine) begin searching in Africa itself. There, violence and potential death stalk her…and perhaps so does a man whom she deserted without a word years back.

Although the early pages felt a bit perfunctory and lack some detail about how Informationist Vanessa (also called Essa or Michael) actually does her job, once she began her mission to find the missing young woman, Emily, and returned to Africa, the novel was very hard to put down. Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea don’t often appear as locales in popular fiction and I was very drawn by Steven’s ability to describe the environs, the people (both native and not), and the hair-trigger political and economic situations. Most of all, the book really came alive when Vanessa reunited with a rogue from her past and the two worked first on personal rapprochement and then on dealing with the arrival (again) of another — Vanessa’s assigned partner, mercenary Miles Bradford. Vanessa becomes a person with whom one can empathize as she navigates the mortal bodily dangers and the pains and confusions of the heart.

The plot is perhaps too easily guessed concerning certain facts, but Stevens does pack a few wallops of surprise too. Still, for a woman who is supposed to be such an expert at collecting, sifting, and analyzing information, Vanessa comes up a bit short when some evidence stares her in the face; she should have been able to pinpoint at least one perpetrator earlier.

Vanessa mentions — but not in too much detail — that she was raised in Africa by missionary parents from whom she is now estranged. It is worth noting that author Stevens had an apparently even more radical childhood: the thumbnail sketch of her on the back cover notes that she “was born into a religious cult and raised all over the world before breaking free of the movement.” Other Internet sources explain that the cult in question was the Children of God (now called Family International). Other well-known members at one time in their lives include, River Phoenix (and his siblings), Celeste Jones, and Rose McGowan. Grim allegations of child abuse have been leveled at the organization, and by her dedication in The Informationist — “To my fellow childhood survivors – you know who you are” — Stevens makes clear her own early life was one she wanted to escape. By creating Vanessa Munroe, a woman with problems but also with exceptional power arising from her need for control, one can theorize that Stevens is using as catharsis Vanessa’s living with and trying to exorcise her oft-felt-or-mentioned psychological demons.

But author analysis aside, The Informationist is a welcome addition to thriller fiction. Lisbeth Salander’s story was cut short (the late author, Stieg Larsson, had planned ten books), but, fortunately, now along comes Vanessa Munroe, and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of her fury and acts of vengeance any more than you wanted Lisbeth zeroing in to take you down! Stevens is busy writing volume two in her series, and I am already looking forward to it. This first volume is definitely recommended.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 246 readers
PUBLISHER: Crown (March 8, 2011)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Taylor Stevens
EXTRAS: Excerpt (Scroll down to see link)
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March 8, 2011 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Africa, Debut Novel, Thriller/Spy/Caper

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