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Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

 Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

One of the reasons that I often side-step the crime and thriller genres is that books in these genres so often begin with  with terrible prologues featuring nameless victims who are about to be horribly brutalised or an anonymous shadowy villain steepling his/her fingers and making a pronouncement about how soon the world as we know it will end.

So when I began the The Innocent, which starts with a prologue in italics, that features an unnamed character, and which turns out to be a dream scene, well, I was a little concerned. But intrepid reader that I am, I pressed on. Admittedly, I did so largely because this book is primarily set in Argentina, where I spent a month earlier this year, and reading is rather a good way to go on a holiday on the cheap. And my efforts werent in vain: its a solid, readable thriller that I can see having widespread appeal.

The second in Stevens series involving flawed, dangerous operative Vanessa Michael Monroe, The Innocent is a straight-forward thriller whose central plot entails the removal of a young girl from a secretive, nomadic religious cult. Though Monroe, still struggling to deal with the psychological aftermath of her last mission as well as an extraordinarily damaged youth, has been holed up in Morocco, she emerges when she hears that her friend Logan needs her help. Logan explains to Monroe that his break from the cult of The Chosen wasnt an entirely clean one: his daughter, who knows nothing of him, is still in their midst. Drawing on Logans knowledge of the cult as well as her own exemplary information retrieval skills, Monroe learns that the girl is likely being held in a Chosen commune in Buenos Aires. Monroe jetsets off to Argentina, where with the help of Logan and her maybe-lover Bradford, she tracks the movements of the commune in order to plan her strike.  

What follows is a good deal less action-oriented than might be expected of a thriller of this nature. The reader is dropped into the rough-and-tumble area of San Telmo, and travels throughout the city in what feels a good deal like a slightly revved up Lonely Planet volume. Sadly, the book doesnt feel especially grounded in the city, which is a shame, because Buenos Aires is a wonderfully evocative place that really does lend itself to a thriller setting.

Rather, much of the book is spent examining the nature of the cult and those who reside within, or who have left, such a community. Many of the conversations that take place are less about the case at hand than they are about the cult experience, and why members may choose to remain in or leave these communities. Sensitive readers may wish to note that there are many discomforting passages relating to the withholding of education and social experience, as well as the way in which children may be treated as sexual currency within the commune as well as by those with whom the commune is linked. Theres also a very careful discussion about the differences between brainwashing and influencing, with the suggestion that people remain within such communities because of the appeal of what is being offered and the fear of excommunication from this group of like-minded people. Members are not stopped from venturing out into the outside world, it seemsthey simply lack the education, means, or social networks required to be able to survive there. Its intriguing, but it does make one wonder why such lengths need to be taken in order to retrieve Logans daughter, and why the Chosen are so intent on keeping her there. I do hope this, and Logans daughters apparent importance to the cult, is something that is explained in the third in the series.

Though the above elements make for interesting background material, they dont make for a page-turning, intricate thriller. Theres very little tension in the book, in part because The Chosen are a non-violent cult whose only weapon against outsiders is the fact that theyre nomadic, and also because Monroe is largely invincible. She speaks a multitude of languages, is cross-culturally adept, is able to make herself over as anyone she pleases, is fiendishly brilliant when it comes to self defence, and has access to all the technology she needs in order to succeed in her missions. Her only kryptonite, it seems, is the nightmares she suffers, and these seem to have little impact on her overall performance. Monroe has been compared with Lisbeth Salander, and although I appreciate the shift towards female protagonists in the largely male-dominated thriller genre, I do worry that the cold, kick-butt personality is somehow being conflated with the notion of the strong female character. Physical strength and emotional coldness are not what is meant by strong. I also struggle to accept the use of rape/physical violence against a woman as a catalyst for a characters eventual transformation into an assassin of sorts, and though this isnt the only reason for Monroes becoming who she is, Ill admit that this element affected my experience of this book.

The Innocent is a quick and tidy read, but lacks the tension and complexity I expect from this genre, and I was disappointed that the case was resolved so readily and in such a linear fashion. The character of Monroe is also difficult to identify with, and at times I couldnt shake the feeling that her background may have had a lot more to do with Terminator than the tortured upbringing thats described. In addition, although this book works as a standalone, I imagine that the reading experience would be much improved by reading this series in order of publication, and recommend that interested readers do so. 

 Rating: star Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevensstar Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevenshalfstar Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevensblankstar Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevensblankstar Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens (not bad)

With thanks to Random House Australia for the review copy

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Other books by Taylor Stevens:

 Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

The book trailer for The Informationist, the first Vanessa Michael Monroe novel:


  1. Ive been to Buenos Aires in 1992 and havent forgotten it since (is the ice cream still delicious?), too bad the author didnt use the city as another character since, like you, I like to read about exotic locations Ive been to.

    • Stephanie /

      The ice-cream is indeed still wonderful, and those alfajores, my goodness!

      The novel just didnt quite feel grounded in the city, and might really have been set anywhere in the world. I think this was definitely a missed opportunity on the authors part. (Although my husband did muse on whether this book might have started out as a tax deduction claim for a holiday ;) )

  2. Im glad the prologue wasnt too indicative of the whole. It is interesting to me that more time was spent discussing the cult than the action, Im not sure I would consider that exactly a thriller. Perhaps the third book will solve the lack of tension in the main story.

    • Stephanie /

      I was very, very nervous after that prologue, but things really did pick up. The cult side of things was certainly interestingparticularly given the authors background, which is worth looking upbut just felt a little out of place in a novel with otherwise such a thrillerish bent.

  3. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out /

    Like you I thought the book lacked tension but I still enjoyed the story. Great review!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Shelleyrae! Id be interested in having a look at the first in the series, thoughand Im especially intrigued now that I know about the authors past.

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