For reasons that escape me, Publishers Weekly called The Informationist “blazingly brilliant,” and the book won raves from the New York Times and numerous other reviewers. Taylor Stephens‘ debut novel, an unconventional thriller, assuredly does merit high marks for its exotic setting — mostly the little-visited Central West African nation of Equatorial Guinea — and for its decidedly offbeat protagonist, a mentally unbalanced woman with skills and a penchant for violence to rival Lisbeth Salander’s. But to me what was most interesting about the novel was the short bio I found about its author on Amazon.com:
“Born in New York State, and into the Children of God, an apocalyptic religious cult spun from the Jesus Movement of the ’60s, Stevens was raised in communes across the globe. Separated from her family at age twelve and denied an education beyond sixth grade, she lived on three continents and in a dozen countries before reaching fourteen. In place of schooling, the majority of her adolescence was spent begging on city streets at the behest of cult leaders, or as a worker bee child, caring for the many younger commune children, washing laundry and cooking meals for hundreds at a time. In her twenties, Stevens broke free in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas, and juggles full-time writing with full-time motherhood.”
The Informationist by Taylor Stevens ★★★☆☆
Assuming the above is factual, it strikes me as truly remarkable that a woman with that much emotional baggage could possibly manage to write readable prose and persist in the effort long enough not just to complete this book but to make it the first of a series about the exploits of its central figure, Vanessa Michael Munroe. There are at least superficial resemblances between Munroe’s upbringing and the author’s as described above, but — fortunately — the fictional character leaves enough corpses in her wake as to ensure that the author would at least never admit to having pursued the same course.
Lisbeth Salander has competition
Now to the story: Munroe is an “informationist” with a unique talent for ferreting out sensitive information no one else seems to be able to uncover. She — “Michael” to her (exceedingly few) friends, “Essa” to the people she left behind at 15 in West Central Africa — is hired by a Texas billionaire to search her old stomping grounds for his daughter Emily, who disappeared somewhere in West Africa four years ago. Because she is to be paid an outrageously large sum of money simply to attempt to find the girl, now in her early 20s if she’s alive, Munroe agrees to be accompanied by a former mercenary named Miles Bradford even though she always works alone.
In astoundingly short order, Munroe solves the four-year-old puzzle of where Emily disappeared. However, as she and Bradford prepare to begin their journey into the hinterland, Munroe is kidnapped. Violent episodes take place in short order, occasioning many deaths. The story ends as Munroe finally learns the (surprising?) truth about Emily’s disappearance and the identity of those behind the attempts to kill her as she looked for the girl. Munroe takes revenge on the guilty parties, and, presumably, all’s now well in the world.
Oh, and by the way: Munroe, Bradford, and just about everyone else who figures in this novel in any significant way is beautiful. Hollywood will be pleased.
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