Sunday, February 6, 2011

"The Informationist" by Taylor Stevens is an intriguing debut thriller 5 stars

This book really surprised me -- in a good way. I wanted to read it because I like thrillers with female main characters -- the idea of strong resourceful women in thrillers is a pleasant change from the testosterone fests that thrillers often become. I really enjoyed this book and think both men and women would find it a good read. There is plenty of action for the guys (plus there are male main characters as well so it isn't a chick fest). And for women the vicarious thrill of a female character taking down the bad guys! But this wasn't the typical thriller I was expecting.

From the jacket blurb, I knew the protagonist of this book would be strong and resourceful. Despite the jacket blurb. I just didn't realize how dark and twisty her inner self would be. That dark and twisty side sometimes gets in the way of the story but it also creates an unusual and very intriguing character. This isn't someone trained in special forces or spy school to kill without emotion as in many thriller novels. The scars she has -- both inside and outside -- show the price she paid to acquire her skills. There is a darkness in her that she acknowledges but can't seem to escape for long.

The interesting differences in the book start with the character's name. The book jacket describes her as Vanessa Monroe but for most of the book she goes by the name Michael and seems to have spent a far amount of time masquerading as a boy or young man. Part of the darkness of Munroe's character comes out of her background as a missionary kid in Africa. She was left on her own much of the time by older parents who appear, from the judgment-filled Scriptures she often hears in her head, to have adhered to a hellfire and brimstone brand of theology. (The author bio indicates she was raised in a cult so I wouldn't expect a lot of warm fuzzies about religion from her.)

More of the source of her darkness comes later in the book when Monroe thinks back to the events that led her to leave Africa. That time also explains the source of the skills she uses in doing her work.

The book started a little bit slow for me (some of which, oddly, was from the typeface used in the advanced readers copy I got). So bear with it if you don't get hooked right way. But once I got into the book, I could hardly put it down. And after that, the pace was nearly perfect. I didn't feel the urge to skip ahead and that is rare for me as I often get bored and want to see what comes next. While I was caught up in the book, I resented the time I had to spend working and sleeping and thus away from the action.

Africa -- particularly Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea -- is almost a character of its own in the book. You should know this is not the Africa of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books with happy pleasant people. It is a hard and dangerous place, especially for foreigners poking into things others want kept secret.

I think at least a glance at the geography of the area in which the bulk of the book takes place would be helpful to follow the characters' travels in Africa. I was generally familiar with the location of Cameroon but Equatorial Guinea was a mystery. It was a surprise when I saw that Bioko Island, where the capitol is, is off the coast of Cameroon and fairly distant from the rest of Equatorial Guinea, . Ad I looked at a map before starting the book, I'd have been better able to picture the characters' travels. If the publisher doesn't include a map in the finished book, you should definitely look at a map before getting very far in the book.

I definitely recommend reading this book. The author bio indicates she is working on a second Vanessa Monroe book and I look forward to reading that one as well.

I got this book free from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for writing a review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

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