Monday, March 19, 2012

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens: A review

Hmmm...A super intelligent gender ambiguous female, who was born in Central Africa to indifferent parents, ran away to a gunrunner and his gang when she was a teenager and became a tough, butch member of the gang earning the respect of all those brutal customers. Haunted by an abusive, tortured background, she grew up to be an emotionally crippled, socially inept adult whose super gifts (which included speaking 22 languages!) allowed her to construct a whole world for herself - a world where she was the unrivaled ruler. The character sounds vaguely familiar, like someone we may have met in a best-selling trilogy not so very long ago. 

This, however, is not Lisbeth Salander and the writer is not Stieg Larsson. Taylor Stevens wrote this book and it is her first. One gets the feeling that she has definitely read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and has lifted the plot right down to the missing and presumed dead heiress and transferred it onto a Texas and then African landscape. 

There's nothing wrong with a writer being inspired by another writer or even with that writer using the outline of a previous story to construct his/her own story. After all, there hardly is anything new under the sun and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Unfortunately, this bit of flattery falls a bit flat in the character development department and it is often repetitive in its descriptive parts. 

The main character here is Vanessa (aka Michael, aka Essa) Munroe, the tortured, kick-ass heroine who has built a thriving business using her own unique set of gifts and expertise in extracting and collating information for her clients. Those clients include corporations, heads of state, and private clients who can meet the price for her services. Munroe grew up in Africa but has not returned since she left there about a decade before. Now she is based in Dallas but globe-trots right around the world. 

She is offered the unusual job, outside the parameters of her normal work, of looking for the stepdaughter of a Houston oil billionaire who disappeared in Africa four years earlier. Other investigators have tried to find out what happened to her, without success. Now the billionaire wants Vanessa/Michael to try, but he insists that she take along Miles Bradford, a bodyguard who will watch her back. Vanessa/Michael certainly does not need a bodyguard but it is part of the contract and she agrees to it. 

Back in Africa, in the land of her childhood, Vanessa/Michael meets old friends and lovers and quickly runs afoul of the corrupt government. But soon she is consumed by the mystery of the missing girl, even as she finds herself cut off and facing implacable enemies who will see her dead before they will allow her to find the answer to the mystery. Maybe she will need that bodyguard after all. 

Parts of this book sound like a romance novel is trying to break through the facade of the thriller. Overall, I found it pretty predictable, but not so terrible for a first effort. This is one of the two first novels by Texas authors that my Mystery Book Club has read in recent months. It is probably not a book that I would have chosen to read on my own, but it was an okay, two-star read.

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