This is book two of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series (see my review of The Informationist, here).
Vanessa, who goes by Michael, is an “information specialist” who takes on million dollar contracts to find out inside information about companies, people, and even countries. She does what it takes to complete her assignments, including murder if necessary, and is known for never failing to deliver. Born in Africa to missionaries and left on her own by age 14, she has lived in thirteen countries and speaks twenty-two languages. She was abused, but battle trained, and can hold her own in a fight. Moreover, she can look like a man if she needs to, or a woman if it will work better to get what she wants.
In the first book of the series, she took a job that sent her back to Africa, and she lost a colleague during that mission that still gives her pain and nightmares. She gained a new one too, however: Miles Bradford, mid-thirties, former Special Forces, and now a private contractor for a “bullets-and-blood mercenary outfit.” In other words, he does work similar to what she does herself.
At the beginning of this second book, Michael, currently in Morocco, is still in recovery mode when she is contacted by her best friend from back in Texas, Logan, for help with a job that may not pay her very much, but is close to his heart. He is trying to save a 13-year-old girl very special to him who was kidnapped by a religious cult, The Chosen of God. He received word that Hannah is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Michael is the only one he knows who could pinpoint her location and get her out.
Michael, Miles and Logan all travel to Buenos Aires, along with two additional former members of the Cult (Logan was brought up by cult-member parents until he was evicted as a teenager), to provide whatever background and help they can.
In researching her assignment, Michael discovers not only background about the abusive nature of the cult that brings all of her violent “revenge” demons screaming to the surface, but also that the rescue will be more complicated than she thought: the cult is somehow connected to a dangerous criminal mob.
When she is cornered by seven well-armed and dangerous mob members in a remote warehouse, it doesn’t look like this time even she can pull through.
Discussion: The author, as she explains on her website, is herself a former member of a “a communal apocalyptic cult” who finally broke free in her twenties. Like Hannah in the story, Stevens says that “My innocence and scholastic education stopped completely when I was twelve-years-old.” Reading in the book what Hannah endured, one hates to imagine the horrors in the author’s past. (She admits: “I pull heavily from personal experience and the experience of the ones I love when creating the worlds they walk in.”)
In an interview she explained that, just like in the book:
“Members were encouraged to change sexual partners whenever they liked and eschew birth control. In the 40-odd years of the cult’s existence, approximately 35,000 people have filtered though its network; over 13,000 of those were children who, like Stevens, were born into it. Allegations of adult sexual contact with children in the early years were rampant, and by the time of [the cult founder’s] death, in 1994, he was wanted by Interpol for inciting sexual abuse against children.”
Ugh, just ugh. I wish I could rant and rave against the author for imagining such horrible things just to make a good book. How I wish I could! If you read the interview, you will see there are many other aspects of her childhood that are replicated in the story. (Elements from the first book also came from experiences in Stevens’ life.) But one can hope this act of exorcism will help her heal. She says about writing this book, “I could get all the revenge I wanted and not have to worry about how things really worked out for people,” she says. “It was great.”
Evaluation: Almost immediately after starting this book, I set it down and re-read The Informationist. I don’t know if it would have been necessary had I not known about it, but I wanted to get all the nuances and references in the beginning of this story, and it had just been too long for me since I had read it. It’s probably not necessary for most people who have already read the first, or even for those who never did. I just have a brain like a colander.
This book has drama, suspense, and the horrible distinction of being based on real-life.
Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2011