Stevens debuts with a tightly written thriller woven around an uncommon heroine with a knack for putting facts together and coming up with the right answers.
Vanessa Michael Munroe is both beautiful and androgynous at the same time. A chameleon by nature, she is Munroe to some, the boy Michael to others and Nessa to a very select few. Munroe hires herself out to glean information for international businesses. She has an encyclopedic and logical mind that stores, sorts and processes information. She can pass for a man or woman, whichever suits her purposes, and most important of all, she has a facility for languages that once sent the CIA calling to recruit her. It’s this ability to pick up a language after a short exposure that makes her adversaries underestimate her. That, and of course, her violent past, which also gives her a hard edge, as well as the skills to kill without remorse or second thought. Munroe is hired by oil tycoon Richard Burbank to find out what happened to his stepdaughter, Emily, who disappeared in West Central Africa four years ago. Burbank sends along a babysitter, Miles Bradford, to help Munroe and report back to him. Munroe resents Bradford; she grew up in this part of Africa and not only speaks the dialects but also understands the geography, culture and politics. Still, the money that’s offered is interesting and Munroe likes a challenge, so she takes the case, and plunges into the heat, chaos and treachery of countries run by dictators and greed. For a while the pair seems to be on the right track, but soon things go very wrong and Munroe finds herself facing her past and having to make a choice that she doesn’t want to contemplate. When it comes down to the pivotal moment, Munroe won’t know whom to trust and whom to kill.
Stevens’ novel wanders a little, particularly at the end, but the writing is stellar, the heroine grittier than Lara Croft and the African setting so vivid that readers can smell the jungle and feel the heat—a gifted debut with much promise.