Title: The Informationist
Author: Taylor Stevens
Genre: Thriller, mystery
Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
First line: Vanessa Michael Munroe inhaled, slow and measured, focused entirely on the curb of the street opposite.
Vanessa “Michael” Munroe is an informationist – she can find and combine information in ways that no one else can, and her services are highly valued by governments, multi-national corporations, and private clients. She has just finished a job in Turkey when her agent, Kate, calls with an interesting offer. Richard Burbank, a Texas oil tycoon, wants to hire her to look into the disappearance of his daughter Emily. Eighteen-year-old Emily disappeared in Africa four years ago, and all attempts to locate her have failed – in spite of unlimited financial backing by Burbank.
Munroe is tempted, even though this is a completely different kind of job than she usually takes. She hasn’t returned to Africa in nine years, and the memories of her childhood and adolescence on the dark continent have haunted her ever since. Munroe takes the job, determined to not only find Emily, but face the demons of her past.
Wow. Really, what more can I say? This book has been getting a lot of buzz (a lot of comparisons to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), and it is all well deserved. There are some similarities between Munroe and Lisbeth Salander of the Stieg Larsson trilogy, but Taylor Stevens has created her own emotionally damaged, kick-butt heroine and thrown her into the middle of a tangled web of a mystery, one in which the final strands aren’t separated until the page-turning final chapters.
The author has her own personal history with Africa, and it shows – she sets the reader right in the middle of the heat and dust and government corruption and violence that embody so many African countries. She also gives Munroe a couple of male characters to play against: Miles Bradford, a security consultant hired by Burbank to watch Munroe’s back while in Africa, against Munroe’s wishes; and Francisco Beyard, a dangerous man from Munroe’s past. The character of Beyard, especially, gives the reader a chance to explore more of Munroe’s history, to understand how she has become the woman she is.
I understand why people are comparing this character to Lisbeth Salander, but there are some differences between this book and the Larsson series, differences I appreciate. While Munroe’s story is equally dark, it is told in a much less graphic way. I don’t mind dark stories with violence, but I like it when the author gives the reader just enough information without spelling out each and every gory, terrible detail. Also, the character seems to make some progress emotionally through the book. Yes, she is damaged, and her story is horrific, but when I closed the book, I didn’t feel like I’d just crawled out of a deep pit of despair, which is how the Larsson books made me feel.
The Innocent, the second book in the Vanessa Munroe series, is already out, and I will be listening to it on audio as soon as my name gets to the top of the hold list. I’m especially excited to read it, knowing that this one will deal with some of the author’s own history as a child of the Children of God/Family International cult. I always find stories about people who escape cults fascinating, and, while I would love to read Steven’s non-fiction memoir, I also am interested to see how she deals with her own history in a fictional way.