All I needed to hear about this book was that the protagonist was Lisbeth 2.0. I absolutely love strong, female characters that are decisive, smart, and can be outnumbered in a fight and still kick ass and take names. I don't mind if they have demons and flaws...in fact, the more flawed the better.
Then I learned about the background of the author, Taylor Stevens. She has had one hell of a life, this woman. One that inspires awe for what she has accomplished, despite the odds. But I'm not going to talk about that right now. It actually makes more sense to discuss Stevens' background when I review her second novel in the series, "The Innocent". So stay tuned for that. Suffice it so say, this book had me hooked before I even started.
Synopsis: Vanessa "Michael" Monroe is a beautiful, young, streetwise merchant of information. She is hired by corporations, governments or individuals with deep pockets for her skills in infiltrating foreign countries or organizations to extract valuable data. Born to missionary parents and then trained by ruthless gunrunners in central Africa, she speaks over 20 languages and can hold her own in hand-to-hand combat, but has childhood demons that she battles in her nightmares and is a loner.
One wealthy oil man from Texas proposes a lucrative but unique mission for Vanessa...to determine once and for all the fate of his missing adopted daughter who disappeared in the jungles of Africa four years ago. This would require Vanessa to face some uncomfortable, unresolved issues from her past, but it IS a hell of a lot of money.
Using her knowledge of the African culture and political landscape, her skills at language and finesse of managing personalities, Vanessa pries back the layers of mystery surrounding the missing girl. But in the process she discovers hidden agendas and deception at all levels, and finds herself abandoned and alone in the jungle, fighting for her life. The most disturbing question in Vanessa's mind, though, is who can she trust?
My thoughts: I've always said that a mystery thriller needs a hook to be memorable. Body parts and a messed up psychopath just won't cut it. Taylor Stevens has cracked this code. There are a lot of Lisbeth wannabes out there, because Lisbeth was an incredibly unique anti-hero and everyone was drawn to her. And I WOULD liken Vanessa to Lisbeth...she is wily, smart and the best in her field. But she is also more savvy with people, and can take out five armed mercenaries by herself. So girlfriend has some Jack Reacher in her too. Call me captivated.
Also captivating was the incredibly likable support cast of Miles Bradford, a security pro who accompanies her on her mission, and Francisco Beyard, an old flame and sexy, badass drug and gun dealer. These weren't your stereotypical token hunka-hunka bad boys. They had their issues and you didn't quite trust them, but you liked being around them, and at one point my heart rate perked up at the thought that they might be around for following installments.
The story itself was mildly intriguing, but far from unique, upping the ante only for the intricate descriptions of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. There were stretches where it seemed like they were forever running around avoiding murderous bands of evil-doers, and I could have done without one or two of them, for the sake of brevity. There was also some facts about Vanessa's childhood that made me roll my eyes. Wine aficionado and sex maniac at 14? Really? I wasn't sure about that. But overall, I was thirsting for more Vanessa at the end. Lucky for me, I had installment #2, "The Innocent" loaded and ready to go.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this novel, Hillary Huber, was the perfect choice for the voice of Vanessa. She's smooth (she almost purrs sometimes), her voice is low and sultry and assured. I'd heard her before in "This Beautiful Life" (her narration was the only highlight with that one) and she made an impression. She would now rank with me as one the best female voices in the business, in my humble opinion. You must seek her out.
4.5 out of 5 stars