first book by Taylor Stevens, The Informationist, I quit everything else for a day and a half and devoured the book. Vanessa Michael Munroe -- known as Michael to her friends, and generally Munroe in the narrative -- has an extraordinary skill in processing information, masses of it, and works with an organization that can assemble it for her, as well as help her field teams where needed for paid assignments that depend on that information. Munroe is also powerfully skilled in self-defense, even to the level of killing when necessary. But the reason she has this other packet of skills reaches back to a truly terrifying adolescence, when brutal abuse forced her to reclaim power over her life through violent response. It's a skill that's dangerous to both her body and her soul, and she's aware of it.
As the second book in the series opens, THE INNOCENT, Munroe is battling an equally violent inner enemy: a form of PTSD that has her reliving all the times she's killed people, and then forcing people she loves into the dreamscape. For good reason, she's become afraid of what she'll do while in the grip of these persuasive nightmares.
And that's just when her long-time friend and ally, Logan, turns up, begging for her help in rescuing an abducted child. Not only has the child been stolen from her parents, but the girl, on the cusp of adolescence, is being held in a cult where abuse of "innocent" children is destroying their lives. It's way too close to what Munroe experienced in her own childhood, and Logan's plea hits all the intimate, impossible-to-decline buttons in her. She's on her way to Argentina. But will Logan's emotional involvement with this kidnapped child capsize Munroe's careful plans and narrow window of opportunity? And how are her flashbacks affecting her ability to cope -- both from lack of sleep, and from the mingled rage and guilt consuming her?
This time, I needed to pace myself in reading what Taylor Stevens has dished up. Far more so than in, say, an Andrew Vachss child abuse crime novel or the massive volumes of the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, Stevens creates a path for readers to identify with Munroe and her choices. This is an avenging CatWoman with scruples, an adept warrior with grief and shadows. I felt that Stevens, whose own past included much of what she writes about -- plus a heroic escape into mainstream life, complete with self-education and a determination to do what Robert Ludlum did in his Jason Bourne trilogy -- could have over-informed the story. But instead, this author has skillfully edited and pared away excess, crafting a strong and unforgettable novel. THE INNOCENT portrays the invisible heroism that comes from determinedly battling, and perhaps vanquishing, the demons of the past.
Plus, through the dark and the fear, Stevens weaves strong friendships and well-nourished love. THE INNOCENT didn't leave me in the dark prisons of violence; it lifted a windowframe, opened a door, pointed the way toward a cleaner, better way. Thanks, Taylor Stevens.
[There are several provocative author interviews available; reach them easily from the author's crisp, clear website.]