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18 June 2014

Taylor Stevens: The Catch

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Vanessa "Michael" Munroe at her/his best
This is #4 in Taylor Stevens' excellent series about Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, one of the most complex, violent but compelling characters in modern adrenaline-filled action packed adventure fiction. This is probably one of the best in the series and may make it into my list of best reads for 2014.

To understand this book you really need to know more about "Michael". In her early life in east Africa, Vanessa "Michael" Munroe experienced extreme violence which has left her with demons but with violent survival skills second to none. She is a polyglot who speaks many languages and quickly picks up others, is extremely intelligent and has an almost eidetic memory. Michael is tall and slim and can become androgynous, changing her sex to survive in different environments, especially where females are treated as second class citizens.

IMHO Michael's complex and dangerous character eclipses that of  Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander. I also think she has many of the self preservation instincts of Maya, (aka Jet) Russell Blake's kick-ass ex Mossad female protagonist.

After the stresses of  the "THE DOLL MAKER" when she survives kidnapping by a notorious and viscous sex trafficker, Michael looks for a place for time-out. While others would choose popular holiday destinations, Michael chooses Djibouti near the Horn of Africa, next to war torn Somalia in the south. For six months Djibouti provides her with a comforting chaos that only a person brought up in the Third World would understand. To mould into the local culture Michael lives as a man, learns the local languages and maneuvers himself into a group of white security mercenaries helping them to negotiate the language, customs and intricacies of the local community. When one of the group is injured the leader of the group invites her to join them on guard duty on a ship sailing through Pirate Alley towards Mombasa.

Not long into the voyage Michael discovers that the ship is running guns and shortly afterwards the ship is attacked by pirates off the Somali coast. During the attack her colleagues are captured but Munroe escapes, taking the injured captain with her to Mombasa in one of the attackers' boats. It soon becomes clear to her that while the pirates have captured the boat for ransom, they were really after the Captain. Michael hides him in a small private hospital while she works out her next move.

She decides that the best way forward is to hijack the ship from the pirates to release her colleagues and put pressure on negotiations with the unknown parties who are seeking the Captain. To do this Michael has to merge into the local community, learn Swahili and explore the dark world of investment in piracy and the intricacies of Third World "hawaladar" for investment and money transfers. This becomes harder when she is attacked and seriously injured by local thugs hired to find the Captain.

This time Stevens allows us to see Michael's vulnerability and capacity to operate in an environment when things seem to be out of her control. This is high-octane stuff that is not for the faint hearted. In contrast to many thriller writers Stevens writes long sentences with multiple actions, but they work well to push the action along and keep you in the picture. This time the action may be slightly less over-the-top than her previous books but for once she shows us a more human side to Michael, but also a determination that never wavers.

Taylor Stevens has a very different background to most successful thriller writers. She grew up in a cult commune and forced to beg in the streets for the cult. Her education was deliberately limited. Her success in escaping that background and becoming a successful published author is mindboggling.

Before reading this book I would recommend that you should read a excellent novella THE VESSEL released to promote this book. This will give those who have never read any books in the series an insight into the complex character of Vanessa "Michael" Munroe. It will also give those who read THE DOLL more information about how Michael had took her revenge on the "man with the dog".

While there are a few blips in the plot that concerned me, overall this is top quality high octane stuff and is highly recommended to discerning followers of action adventure thrillers.

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