Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe is an informationist, able to obtain the information you need, no matter how clandestine, if the price is right. If you haven’t read about her you’re missing out. Steven’s has a knack for placing her protagonists in plots that challenge their internal conflicts as well as their physical, like no other in the field. Her latest, The Doll, is further proof of her talent.

The book hits the round running when she is kidnapped from the Dallas streets and taken to Croatia. There she is brought before a creepy shadowy white slaver, The Doll Maker, who feels Munroe owes him for something she did in her past and must deliver one of his “dolls”, Neeva, to a client in France. If she doesn’t take the assignment they will torture and kill Logan, her lover whom they have also kidnapped, who runs Capstone, a Black Water type organization

The book skillfully follows two story lines. The main one has Munroe on her road trip with Neeva, that includes many action packed stops as she tries to figure out a way of being in a situation that goes against her principals, and why she was picked to do it in the first place. She uses the gritty side of the European locales to ground the story with skill. We also get the Capstone team in their search for Logan, giving Stevens a broader canvas to work with. Usually regulated to her lone wolf character, she seems to relish sketching out the characters that work as a team. It also allows her to use her sense of humor more often.

That said, as always, it is Munroe who makes these books tick and Stevens pushes her further than ever before. Vanessa has always had the ability to shut down her emotions to do the job with cold professionalism, but here she is given a moral dilemma where she must deal with them. She’s forced to really think about how much Logan means to her, and if loving Logan is right for her. All of this is expressed through action and terse dialogue; like the fantastic discussion Munroe has with Neeva on how to survive.

The Doll builds on a body of works that puts Taylor Stevens in the company of Jeff Abbott, Lee Child, and her hero Robert Ludlum. She knows how to turn a phrase, whether it is Munroe’s actions or speech, entwining her in a well-paced plot that challenges her on all levels. With Vanessa Michael Munroe, Stevens has given us an unpredictable heroine who goes places we never imagined. The only thing you can be sure of, it won’t be boring.

Taylor Stevens will be speaking and signing copies of The Doll on Wednesday June 12th at 7pm at BookPeople. Stevens will be joined by Jon Steele, author of Angel City.

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