Vanessa ‘Michael’ Munroe has been holed up in Morocco since the events at the conclusion of The Informationist. When someone approaches her to request – no, beg – her assistance, it isn’t normally the sort of job she would take. After all, they’re not able to pay her nearly the amount she would usually command. But this person happens to be one of the few people in the world who can claim a relationship with Munroe. He’s one of the few people she cares about – they’ve been friends for a long time and when Logan comes asking, Munroe puts aside some demons and a reluctance to return stateside because she cannot say no to him.
Logan wants her help to extract a 13yo girl named Hannah who was kidnapped eight years ago by a man who took her deep into the arms of a cult known as The Chosen. Hannah’s mother and her friends have been looking for her ever since and it’s taken them this long to even get a good tip on her location – The Chosen have kept Hannah extremely well isolated and protected, moving her around often. She’s believed to be in Argentina, South America, although a precise location isn’t known. That’s where Munroe comes in.
Pretty soon Munroe and the hangers-on who came with her into Argentina realise that the best way to get Hannah out is to infiltrate the cult. The greatest chance of success to get this young girl out…is to send Munroe in.
The Innocent is the follow up to The Informationist which I read last year. Stevens’ flawed hero, Vanessa ‘Michael’ Munroe exploded onto the scene, drawing comparisons with Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and intriguing readers with her fine range of abilities and damaged psyche. I found The Informationist fast paced – almost excessively so and at times, Munroe a little hard to connect with. Nevertheless I was still very interested in where Stevens was going to go with the character and the series so when the opportunity to review this title came up, I was eager to take it.
There’s no doubt that the pace in this one is slower – but that’s not to say it’s boring. There’s still plenty of action, lots of sneaking around, Munroe slipping easily into different personas and doing what she does best – gathering information. But there’s less country hopping, less kidnappings, less running for their lives. Miles Bradford makes an appearance in this book, taking time off from his own company, to assist Munroe again, one of the few people she will tolerate having her back. The relationship between the two of them is easier – Munroe is agreeable to working with him, she’s not trying to lose him at every turn or make things difficult. Even though she’s deeply troubled in this book by certain things and is as deadly as ever, she seems softer, somehow a bit more vulnerable in this novel. She is suffering from traumatic nightmares and these also contribute to the fact that she seems more human in this novel, less a caricature of outrageous skills. I found it easier to connect with her and to really immerse myself in the story and what her particular assignment is.
According to her author bio, Taylor Stevens is the one that escaped. She was raised in a cult, denied an education past the sixth grade, much like the escapees of The Chosen in the novel so she knows first hand what life in one of these organisations is like. She takes care to really flesh the scenes at the communes out, detailing the sort of emotional manipulation pressed upon young, impressionable people that are drawn to these cults: people who are a bit lost, looking for something, be it answers or happiness of some form. However she’s also careful to stop short of fully portraying it as brainwashing, with one of the ex-members clearly stating it isn’t that, it will only work on you if it’s attractive to you on some level. Likewise the sexual abuse is hinted at more than explicitly described, just enough detail to clue the reader in but without really forcing them to bear witness to it.
I think that if you liked The Informationist but had a few reservations, most notably about the way in which Munroe’s character is portrayed, then I would recommend reading The Innocent. I feel that this was a much stronger book in terms of giving the reader a more in depth look at her actual personality without the excessive devotion to her multitudes of skills with languages, combat and weaponry. People with an appreciation for character-driven novels will probably enjoy this one more than the first, but there’s still plenty there for those who prefer plot-driven books too! I feel that Taylor Stevens’ writing was stronger in this one and I think this is something that should continue the more experienced she becomes and the more she fleshes out Munroe. She is currently writing a third book featuring Munroe and after the conclusion of this one, I will be very much looking forward to the release of that one to see what is in store for Munroe, Bradford and Logan.
Book #100 of 2012