Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Innocent

A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel
By Taylor Stevens
Crown Publishers, 331 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 2.5

Vanessa Michael Munroe is back in the follow-up to her debut performance in The Informationist, which I reviewed in December of last year. The mission she is hired for this time is to rescue a child from a cult and return her to her parents. Michael, as she is known, travels to Argentina, last known location for the girl, and sets about recon. She is joined by Miles Bradford, also returning from the first book, who's main function is electronics and, infrequently, bodyguard. Most of the time he's the second string. Munroe is also saddled with a small collection of former cult members, each with a different agenda,who's main function seems to be offering the potential for mission catastrophe.

The Innocent begins promisingly. Munroe is a unique heroine, no one else like her in past or current thriller fiction. Taylor Stevens allows her to be larger than life and I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sheer fun of experiencing a woman in charge, physically and mentally. Michael is a chameleon who would be an asset to any intelligence and/or mercenary agency in the world, except the body count tends to climb when she's around. The story idea is a good one. The author was born into the Children of God and presumably knows whereof she speaks; the descriptions of the cult and it's members and practices are detailed and so strange. So to sum up: 1) great story idea, 2) great main character and 3) details to sink your teeth into, and 4) there's a sub-issue that works well throughout the book involving Munroe's violent nightmares and the dangers represented by her sleepwalking, actually more of a fugue state.

So what is wrong with this book?

1) It's slow. Real action doesn't begin until page 261. This is unacceptable. 2) Munroe is a fabulous character who has been allowed no growth, acceptable I suppose, but tedious. In addition, there are two incidents that make no sense: 1) at the beginning of the book Munroe kills a man in New York during one of the previously mentioned fugue states and this has no apparent effect on anything, and 2) not long after arriving in Argentina she rescues two girls from a couple of men who apparently were buying them but this is never alluded to during the entire remainder of the book. It's as if it happens in a vacuum. Disorienting. Finally, The Innocent could have benefited from better editing. The writing frequently comes across as clunky, repetitive and is filled with odd word choices.  

When I reviewed The Informationist, Taylor Stevens' debut, I was impressed. I very much enjoyed that book and gave it a rating of 4.5. Maybe it's the classic sophomore syndrome, suffering in comparison to a widely praised debut. Maybe the debut was a fluke, too early to tell. So while I cannot recommend The Innocent, the author is currently at work on a third book in the series and I am prepared to keep an open mind and read the third installment before making a decision.

To visit the author: www.taylorstevensbooks.com

To visit the publisher: www.crownpublishing.com

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