A tale of betrayal and revenge
THE publisher’s notes that came with The Informationist, by Taylor Stevens, whetted my appetite to read it.
"Taylor Stevens was raised in a nomadic, apocalyptic communal cult. She was denied basic education, her storytelling quashed by cult leaders and her writing confiscated and burned."
Being curious about life in a religious cult, I read the book – the first in a three-book contract with publishers Random House.
While it’s informed by the author’s experience of cult life with the Children of God, later known as The Family, that’s not its central theme – and in interviews in the US the author has denied her book is a memoir of her upbringing.
The reader has to wonder how true that is.
Stevens has created a female action hero, Vanessa Michael Munroe, with extraordinary powers: she speaks 22 languages; she can pass as female or, using her middle name, male; she can kill with her bare hands using a number of martial arts techniques, or a variety of weapons; she has a sixth sense which gets her out of situations from which there would be no hope of escape; and she can hate and love with equal passion.
Munroe is The Informationist, an operator for hire who can find out any information about anything, anywhere on the planet. She’s hired by a Texan oil tycoon to find his daughter, who has been missing for four years somewhere in Africa, maybe Equatorial Guinea.
She is not a peaceful hero. Driven by demons in her head, she is in an almost constant state of rage. Scar tissue on her body relates back to her captivity in her early teens after she is abandoned by her parents and ends up in the hands of an African gang, one of whom repeatedly rapes her. Eventually she kills him, without remorse, and escapes.
Surely here there are echoes of the author’s life with The Family, a cult known for prostitution of its young women, in which she was denied education, constantly moved from one country to another, and forced to beg on the streets.
The central theme of the book is Munroe’s betrayal by a colleague while working on this very tough assignment, and her subsequent quest for revenge.
Trouble is, she doesn’t know who it is who has betrayed her until the fourth quarter of the book, so there’s plenty of no-holds-barred violence until she focuses on the real offender.
For a first novel by a writer who hasn’t read many books, it’s a good start, if a little one-dimensional in its characterisation and dialogue. Stevens has written the second book in the trilogy and we are promised more details of life in a cult when it hits the shops.