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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens plus bonus Q/A with the author (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Read the Prologue & first 2 chapters HERE
Order the book HERE
For a chance to win 5 copies of the book click HERE (Contest ends tomorrow)
Read an article about the author and her background HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Taylor Stevens lives in Dallas, Texas with her children. She spent her formative years in a cult in various countries such as Mexico, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea. As an adult she also lived in many parts of Africa which fuel certain events in this tale. Amidst her twenties she was able to get out of her oppressive surrounding and understand the world beyond the confines of the Children of God. She started writing after being inspired by the Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum with no serious background in writing other than having read and loved books by likes of Robert Ludlum, John Sanford & Iris Johansen. She quit her day job on getting a publishing offer for two books. This is her debut.

BOOK BLURB: Vanessa 'Michael' Munroe deals in information - expensive information - working for corporations, heads of state, private clients, and anyone else who can pay for her unique brand of expertise. Born to missionary parents in lawless central Africa, Munroe took up with an infamous gunrunner and his mercenary crew when she was just fourteen. As his protégé, she earned the respect of the jungle's most dangerous men, cultivating her own reputation for years until something sent her running. After almost a decade building a new life and lucrative career from her home base in Dallas, she's never looked back.

Until now.

A Texas oil billionaire has hired her to find his daughter who vanished in Africa four years ago. It's not her usual line of work, but she can't resist the challenge. Pulled deep into the mystery of the missing girl, Munroe finds herself back in the lands of her childhood, betrayed, cut off from civilization, and left for dead. If she has any hope of escaping the jungle and the demons that drive her, she must come face-to-face with the past that she's tried for so long to forget!


CLASSIFICATION: The Informationist is a thriller set in Africa with a strong female protagonist. Personally I felt it had the charismatic prose of Tess Gerritsen’s books combined with the deadly pace of Barry Eisler.

FORMAT/INFO: The Informationist is 307 pages long in Hardcover format, divided over a Prologue, twenty-three numbered chapters, and an Epilogue. The book is set in third person solely via the protagonist Vanessa “Michael” Munroe. This is the first book in the series featuring Vanessa. It reads like a standalone and at the end of the book, the reader does get a complete story.

March 8, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Informationist via Crown Publishing, an imprint of Random House.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Informationist is Taylor Stevens’s debut book and I happened upon it thanks to the ever excellent ITW site which devotes a special eye on upcoming thriller writers. The book blurb sounded very exciting and it seemed the kind of thriller which I do like to try on every once in a while.

The book focuses on Vanessa “Michael” Munroe, the titular protagonist, who will get you the required information for the right amount of money no matter how irretrievable it might appear to be and no matter where it’s ensconced. After finishing off an assignment and getting ready for a vacation, she’s contacted by her contact/handler Kate Bredeen. Kate informs her about a high profile offer to search for a missing girl and the clincher for the deal is that she gets paid just to listen and (possibly) decline the case. She decides to meet the father Richard Burbank and after listening to the particulars, agrees to take on the case as she sees it as free money especially when the end result is getting information whether Emily (the missing girl) is truly dead. One of the main reasons spurring her decision is; that the girl has supposedly gone missing in the continent of Africa which also happens to be an area which Vanessa/Michael is well acquainted with, as her entire childhood was spent living amongst various African nations. She soon manages to pick up new information which reveals a small but delicate trail for the girl and the people who disappeared with her.

She is also joined by Miles Bradford, who is rather forced upon her by her employer but manages to prove himself to be a decent backup. Things begin to look up as they manage to get further evidence of Emily’s trail however they are soon betrayed and Vanessa is left to fend for herself. Thus begins a long myriad stream of events which will see her come to terms with her past and face a frenemy whom she thought, she had left way behind. She also has to locate the mole on her side and plug the leak and finally discover the truth about Emily’s disappearance.

This book was an amazing read for me as it’s very rare to find such polished thrillers from debut writers. The book completely grabs the reader from the start and never lets go and this is mainly due to the enigma that is the protagonist. Vanessa is a psychologically scarred individual who has taken quite some pains to mask her past. She is a loner and thoroughly dangerous individual however Taylor Stevens makes the reader cohabitate her mind and makes you feel her pain, her thought process and finally experience her indomitable will, ultimately she is showcased in such a way that the reader empathizes with her throughout the tale. The majority of the book is set in various regions of Africa and the author paints a very vivid and realistic environment, the readers who are totally unfamiliar with the social conditions of Africa will not have any problems sinking in and understanding how different life can be. These plus points enthrall the reader and make the tale that much more relishing.

The prose is competent and the characters are very realistically drawn out. Not only is Michael portrayed so brilliantly but we also get a very rounded view of the other characters present as well. In the climax, there were a couple of twists which I did not see coming and the author can rest easy as her plot continuously shifts and will keep the readers on their toes. Many comparisons will arise with Steig Larsson's books due to the similar nature of the protagonists however I can't comment much on it due to my unfamiliarity with Lisbeth Salander.

Negative points for me were almost minuscule, there were a couple of situations which seems a bit too incredible however this is a thriller book and so can be easily overlooked. Vanessa's past is laid bare rather brutally and some readers might find it bit too dark. Also there are some qualities attributed to her which might be a bit perplexing for the reader to believe, however truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and one must definitely keep in mind that almost all fiction is partly inspired by people and events in the real world.

CONCLUSION: This was a very fast paced book and Taylor Stevens marks herself out with her strong protagonist as well her flair for a crisp plot. A very good debut which will soon lead to comparisons with top thriller writers like Steig Larsson, Lee Child and Barry Eisler. However a couple of facts mustn’t be gleaned over, Taylor Stevens is a newbie with almost no background in writing/literature and also coupled with a turbulent past and limited education, therefore her literary debut becomes doubly admirable for these facts. Grab this book and dive in for an exceptional thrill ride that is The Informationist!


Bonus Q/A with Taylor Stevens


1] For the benefit of readers, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?

A) My background is, perhaps, a little unusual for a novelist, in that I was born and raised into the Children of God, an apocalyptic religious cult that believed education beyond sixth grade was a waste of time and didn’t allow access to television and books from the outside. In place of schooling, the majority of my 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.

2] How did you get started in writing? & could you share with us your experience of getting published?

A) The writing experience started something like this: I’m going to write a book. It will be fiction, and it’s going to take place in Africa. A couple of used writing guides became my Bible, and an old laptop that was now seeing its third continent, my everyday companion. So began a journey that started out as nothing more than a way to take back stolen childhood dreams, and which eventually grew into a three-book deal with Crown.


When the manuscript was finished and as good as I could possibly get it, I set out on the next step of finding a literary agent. I scoured blogs from agents, editors and professional writers in order to understand the publishing industry, and quickly realized that, like everything else, I would be forced to go the hard road. I wasn’t in a position to attend writers’ conferences to meet agents in person to pitch a book. Neither was I well read enough to track down the agents or editors of authors whose books I liked. I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone even remotely connected to publishing: I had no referrals, and no foot in the door. My only option, really, was to cold query agents by email, which, if you believe the naysayers, is impossible.

3] What was the spark of inspiration which lead to the genesis of "The Informationist"? How long have you been working on it, and how much has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?


A) My initial desire in developing THE INFORMATIONIST, before there were characters, or plot, or any idea really of what I would write, was to bring to life some of the foreign and exotic worlds I’d lived in, and Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and predator, a woman with her own brand of morality and a take-no-prisoner’s form of justice, gradually came alive as a result of the demanding environments she was thrown into. In all, it took about two years to finish, and it evolved quite a bit along the way, both because I didn’t have a story in mind when I set out, and also because I learned the mechanics of writing fiction as part of the experience of working on THE INFORMATIONIST.

4] On your website you mention that you feel that pacing and structure are two weak points in your writing arsenal, after reading your book frankly I’m surprised you feel so. What makes you think that this might be the case?

A) Because I get to see my first drafts before anyone else does. There are a lot of unsung heroes in the publishing industry who play a role in nurturing a book through its many phases, and I’ve been very fortunate to receive the kind of feedback that improved upon what I feel are my weaker points.

5] What are you aiming for with this book?

A) I consider myself an entertainer, and my ultimate goal is for my readers to feel that the hours spent on THE INFORMATIONIST were worth the time and money. I don’t deliberately set out to create social commentary or convey a message, but if something deeper is drawn from my work, I guess that’s a bonus.

6] Who are your literary idols and what are the types of books which you like to read?

A) Robert Ludlum will probably always be my favorite if only because it was when reading the last of the Bourne Trilogy that I decided to write fiction. I craved to create these things, these people, these worlds and stories in the way that Ludlum could create them, and one thing I knew was that the life I had led up to that point provided me with plenty of material on which to draw. Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, and THE INFORMATIONIST, are the fulfillment of that desire.

7] What are your plans for the future? What are you writing currently and what can you tell us about your next release “The Innocent”?


A) THE INNOCENT, the second installment in the Michael Munroe series, draws heavily on my childhood of having been raised within The Children of God. Although the story is fiction, it’s based on truth and probably the closest I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography.

1 comments:

Danmark said...

After coming off the struggles i had with lisbeth salander, this book was so much easier for me to get into. Its obvious this author read Steig's books and at one point he deliberately alluded with one if Lisbeths names with the F word thrown in the middle. It was too obvious and was glad it did not happen again. Really loved Michael, Miles and Francisco. Africa continent was amazing. So much easier without all the swedish names to stumble over. Would recommend to anyone who loves riveting drama.

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