Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Taylor Stevens, THE INFORMATIONIST: Vivid Debut Thriller, Africa, Female Protagonist ...

I got lucky in two ways when I settled down to read one of the hottest spring thrillers for this year, THE INFORMATIONIST. Lucky thing #1: I didn't read any of the reviews. If I had, all the casual references to "like Lisbeth Salander" would have driven me nuts. Lucky thing #2: I didn't read anything about the author before starting the book. That's good, because this author's life story is a thriller that would have distracted from the story. And it must have just been luck, because usually I know a lot about a book (and author) before I make time to read it!

Vanessa Michael Munroe, known to her friends as Michael, doesn't just Google for data. She's highly skilled in gathering the real thing -- most often, by going to the nation, corporation, or other entity to be investigated, and digging in, in person, using her wide experience of contrasting cultures to grapple with what's really going on. As a result, she's a highly paid consultant, just completing an assignment in Ankara as the book opens. Her team -- an assignments and finance manager, an equipment genius, and others -- know her need for privacy, her addiction to action, and her fierce intellect. And they protect her as best they can. Unfortunately, the assignment calling Michael back to the US (after two years away) isn't as simple as it seems: a missing person trail, four years old, in West-Central Africa. There's good news, though: Any case this complex and multilayered has plenty of detail for Michael to process, and in days, she's further ahead on it than any other investigators have been.

Until it all turns violent, against her -- and the people she cares about.

Here are four reasons this smart, caring, and bitter protagonist is getting compared with Lisbeth Salander: She doesn't hesitate to use violence when needed; she surfs the Internet like a pro; she rides motorcycles; and she won't let anyone into her head.

But Michael has an emotional depth that Lisbeth can't expose; if there's something "wrong" with her, it's not Asperger's or any form of autism, but a more desperate haunting that probably comes from her (mostly unrevealed) childhood; and she's a leader, someone at home with a pack of her own, rather than living in the bitter isolation that Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth requires. This is a protagonist to identify with, in spite of all the differences from our own lives.

And that comes from Taylor Stevens, a self-taught author rising up from a near-incredible past to hammer out a top-notch thriller (modeling her work after Robert Ludlum). In the long run, I decided she's creating something close to Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, with more to lose and more to give ... and, because this is her first published book, a lot more uncertainty about what's coming next. I already look forward to the second Taylor Stevens book. Her Facebook page suggests she's now working on number three.

If you've got a moment, let me know where you think the best comparisons can be made on this one. I promise not to grumble if you say "Lisbeth Salander" after all -- if you've got a good reason.

Taylor Stevens
Do explore the author's website, and this poignant interview from the Huffington Post.

1 comment:

Portugal said...

This book was so good that I stayed up all night finishing it and had to call in sick to work the following day. It's not to be missed