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.