The Innocent (Vanessa Michael Munroe Series #2)by Taylor Stevens, Hillary Huber
With The Innocent, Taylor Stevens, the bestselling author of The Informationist, returns with another blockbuster thriller featuring the fearless Vanessa Michael Munroe.
Eight years ago, a man walked five-year-old Hannah out the front doors of her school and spirited her over the Mexican border, taking her into the world of a cult known/i>/i>
With The Innocent, Taylor Stevens, the bestselling author of The Informationist, returns with another blockbuster thriller featuring the fearless Vanessa Michael Munroe.
Eight years ago, a man walked five-year-old Hannah out the front doors of her school and spirited her over the Mexican border, taking her into the world of a cult known as The Chosen. For eight years, followers of The Prophet have hidden the child, moving her from country to country, shielding the man who stole her. Now, those who’ve searched the longest know where to find her. They are childhood survivors of The Chosen, thirty-somethings born and raised inside the cult who’ve managed to make lives for themselves on the outside. They understand the mindset, the culture within that world, and turn to Vanessa Michael Munroe for help, knowing that the only possibility of stealing Hannah back and getting her safely out of Argentina is to trust someone who doesn’t trust them, and get Munroe on the inside.
Tautly written, brilliantly paced, and with the same evocation of the exotic combined with chilling violence that made The Informationist such a success, The Innocent confirms Taylor Stevens’ reputation as a thriller writer of the first rank.
“Impressive. . . . The gripping plot runs on adrenaline as much as does Vanessa, who unleashes her violent tendencies when the powerless are threatened. . . . Vanessa makes for an intriguing heroine—at once tough, fearless, vulnerable, and compassionate.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Much-anticipated. . . . Stevens vividly depicts a dark domain of manipulation, indoctrination, and abuse.” —Booklist
“Part Lisbeth Salander, part Jason Bourne, Munroe comes out swinging hard again. . . . A gritty, suspenseful novel.” —Library Journal
“If you haven’t joined the Munroe bandwagon, now’s the time to climb aboard.” —Dallas News
"Fans of thrillers who haven't yet discovered Stevens are in for a treat...Those who have eagerly awaited this sequel will be delighted to find the same intelligent writing, masterful pacing, and tense and fluid action scenes that feel ready-made for the cinema, and an intensely emotional core that lends Stevens' novel a depth not often found in the genre." —Associated Press
“A whirlwind thriller about a seriously a**-kicking female renegade battle against a hair-raising cult.” —Shelf Awareness
"Vanessa Michael Munroe earns her spot in the roll call next to a certain dragon-tattooed individual by virtue of calculated calm and serious self-defense skills.” —Austin Chronicle
“[A] story about a tough-as-nails spy with a tortured past who is fighting to overcome her demons and save a young girl in the process. This one kept me up all night reading…If you enjoy a fast-paced thriller, check this one out.” —Parkersburg News & Sentinel
“…as fast-paced, exciting and violent as Stevens’ first novel. If you enjoy action thrillers, you do not want to miss “The Innocent.” —Galveston Daily News
"The Innocent...is a provocative story about a women's tortured soul." —USA Today
Read an Excerpt
Ten in the evening local time meant late afternoon in Dallas, still within the ofﬁce hours of most businesses, although Logan expected that Capstone Consulting kept the phones running far later than the standard nine to ﬁve.
He picked up the handset, exhaled, and dialed a call he’d never expected to make.
Capstone was owned and operated by Miles Bradford, former Special Forces turned private contractor, the man who’d been by Munroe’s side when the world had turned upside down. If there was ever a person who’d want to know about her current state, who’d be willing to get involved in a nightmare predicament for no other reason than that it involved her, that man was Bradford.
Anticlimactically, Logan was put on hold. During the frustrating wait, he moved methodically about the room, scanning surfaces and opening drawers, careful to leave everything as he’d found it while the phone to his ear provided background music. He was checking beneath the sofa when Beethoven’s Ninth was clipped short by a cheery voice announcing Capstone, as if it were some high-stakes New York marketing ﬁrm instead of the bullets-and-blood mercenary outﬁt Logan knew it to be.
According to the receptionist, Bradford was out of the country.
“I know you have a way to get in contact with him,” Logan said.
“Tell him that Michael’s in trouble and that if he wants to talk to me, this line’s only going to be clear for the next three or four hours.”
He recited the apartment’s phone number, and after a routine reassurance that someone would get back to him, he hung up and moved on to the meager pantry.
He was violating Munroe’s space and her privacy, a deed not done lightly, hunting for what he knew was hidden somewhere nearby. He didn’t need a visual to conﬁrm his suspicions, but he did want the speciﬁcs in order to assess the damage.
He was in the middle of Munroe’s bathroom when the phone rang. Logan fumbled and then recovered. The wait had been thirty minutes, not a bad measure of Bradford’s concern.
There was static on the line and a few seconds’ delay, but even through that Logan could hear the clipped, impatient quality of Bradford’s tone.
“I just got your message,” he said. “What kind of trouble is she in?”
Carefully scripted, Logan said, “The self-inﬂicted, oops-look-at-that-I’m-dead kind of trouble.”
There was a pregnant pause and Bradford said ﬁnally, “Suicide?”
Logan closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. “No, she’s very much alive. But she’s self-medicating. And she’s started carrying knives again.”
Silence, and then, “How long has this been going on?”
“I have no idea. I ﬂew into Morocco this morning and she met me at the airport. The signs are all there, she doesn’t try to hide them—ﬂaunts them, even—she’s poking at me with them, like she wants me to know. I’m going to take a guess and say it’s only been a few weeks. She just moved to Tangier, and it could be related.”
“Any idea what she’s taking?”
“Not sure,” Logan said. “I’m trying to ﬁnd out. Never thought I’d see the day she started this shit again, but if history’s any predictor, it’ll be legal and she’ll have a fake prescription.”
Logan searched the nightstand drawers. “Anyway, she’s out with Noah right now. I’m ransacking her apartment.”
Bradford exhaled a low whistle.
“She won’t know,” Logan said. “Been there, done that, won’t get caught.”
There was another pause and then Bradford said, “Logan, I’m in Afghanistan. There’s no way for me to get out of here for another weekand until then I’m at a loss as to what I can do.”
Logan knelt to look under the bed. “I’m not sure either,” he said.“I just ﬁgured you’d want to know. You’re the obvious intervention partner of choice—I mean, you were there, you know better than anyof us why she’s doing it—and really, Miles, I think you’re the only other person who cares the way that I do.”
Logan opened the doors of a large armoire and glared at a small box barely visible under a pile of clothes. “I think I’ve found it,” he said.
From the box he pulled a smaller box, opened it, and shook free a bottle of syrup. He read off the label, “Phenergan VC.”
“Is that the codeine version?” Bradford said.
Logan searched the label, lips set tight. Bradford knew his pharmacopoeia. “Yes, codeine,” he said. “The box holds twelve and two are missing.”
“If we’re lucky, that’s the ﬁrst box,” Bradford said. He hesitated.“Okay, look, I understand why you called and I thank you for it. The earliest I can get out of here is next Thursday. Do you think you can ﬁnd an excuse to get her to the States?”
“You know how she is about returning.”
“I could come to Morocco,” Bradford said. “But I really don’t think that’s a good idea.” There was a long silence, and although Bradford never verbalized it, Logan understood the reason. Noah and Bradford around Munroe at the same time brought far too much potential for conﬂict.
“Best would be to get her to the U.S.,” Bradford said. “Or really anywhere out of Morocco.”
Logan nodded agreement to the empty room. “I’ll ﬁgure something out and let you know how it goes,” he said, although in truth his favor already required that he take her from here.
“I’d give you a number,” Bradford said, “but it’s pointless, I move around too much. Call the ofﬁce. They’ll be able to reach me. If you can’t get her to go back, I’ll come to you, but I need at least a week.”
The call over, Logan continued to stare into the armoire at the box and all that it stood for. Codeine wasn’t the heaviest stuff she’d taken, nor was it the worst to be abused; the issue was that she was self-medicating at all.
Heavy, burdened, he replaced the bottle and rearranged the clothes.
He could work this thing. Getting Bradford involved was a deﬁnite step forward, and pulling him in had been rather easy.
Logan shoved away the stab of guilt.
He would have made that call even if he didn’t need Munroe’s help, and Bradford wasn’t offering to do anything he didn’t want to do.
Logan returned to the bedroom and the weight of two days’ travel pressed against his eyelids. Intent on remaining alert until whatever god forsaken hour Munroe came back, he closed his eyes for a second and opened them to bright sunlight streaming through the curtains.
He bolted upright with no recollection of falling asleep or of Munroe returning, or with any concept of how much time had elapsed. He fumbled for his watch.
Seven in the morning, local time.
God, he was tired.
He rolled his legs over the side of the bed and listened, shook his head in an attempt to clear the fog that wrapped around his brain. There was no sound or movement in the apartment, so he stood and padded to the window. Parked along the curb were a few cars, but no BMW.
Logan opened the bedroom door and, with the stealth of a kid preparing to sneak into the kitchen to grab a cookie, peered down the hall.
Munroe’s door was slightly ajar, deﬁnitely not closed the way he’d left it the night before. Barefoot against the tiled ﬂoor, he moved toward her bedroom, and there, hearing nothing, pressed his palm to the door.
She was alone: sprawled across the mattress, face in a pillow and tangled in sheets that trailed to the ﬂoor. The knives sat on the night-stand and against the foot of the bed lay the clothes she had shed before climbing into it. The armoire doors were partially open, and although there was no visible sign that she’d helped herself to the contents of another bottle, crashed out and dead to the world as she was, Logan had no doubt that she had.
He left her room for the guest bathroom, irritation and anger washing over him. He needed her right now, needed her to be herself, lucid, aware, not this—brain- and emotion-numbed, and half-alive.
No matter the reasons, what she was doing was such a goddamn fucking waste of brilliance.
He turned on the shower and let it run. There was no point in keeping quiet; the insomniac woman who would normally go from a dead sleep to a ﬁghting stance over less than a whisper had drugged herself into a state of unconsciousness.
It was afternoon when the light tap of footsteps ﬁrst echoed downthe hall. Logan waited until they passed, then left his room in search of Munroe and found her in the kitchen ﬁlling a coffeepot with water,dressed in a tank and boxers and sporting a case of bed hair so bad he would have laughed if things had been otherwise. He didn’t see the knives, but then she’d never needed them to kill, and that wasn’t why she carried them anyway.
“Want coffee?” she said.
“Sure,” he replied.
“Where’s Noah?”She yawned and scratched the back of her neck. “He’s at his holiday house. What time is it?”
“Around three o’clock,” he said.
Munroe placed the pot on the stove and lit the burner. She sat at the kitchen table, then tilted her head up and smiled. A real smile. And in spite of himself and the frustration and anger, Logan smiled back.
“I needed the sleep,” she said. “And thought you might need some too, what with the jet lag and the long trip. I won’t make you wait on me like that again.”
This was as much of an explanation as she’d give, but Logan knew she did it with calculated reason. The sleep and making him wait had been as much a deliberate display as the knives on the train.
She wanted him to know her state of mind, to take it all into account should he continue toward whatever favor he must ask.
Logan said nothing, and she smiled again—that killer smile.
“Have a seat,” she said. “I’ll make you lunch.”
He nodded toward the empty cupboards. “From what?”
With a straight face she said, “Coffee,” and the heartbeat of silence was followed by commingled laughter that came as a welcome release of tension.
Logan couldn’t help but grin, so good was it to see her lucid and to have her again, the real her, the Michael that he knew and loved; and he relished the moment because he knew it would be short-lived.
As if she’d read his mind, she said, “Tell me why you’ve come—what is it you need?”
The coffeepot percolated on the stove, but Munroe made no move to get it. She nodded toward the seat opposite. It wasn’t an invitation, it was an instruction. There was no point in arguing, so Logan sat in the proffered chair. Forearms on the table, he shifted forward, and as he opened his mouth to speak, she put a hand on his wrist.
“Hold the thought,” she said. She stood, stepped to the stove, and turned off the burner.
She’d so perfectly disarmed him. He watched her move about the kitchen: ﬂuid, methodical, neither hurried nor pausing, much like a well-trained dancer. She turned to catch his eye, smiling conspiratorially as she set out the coffee mugs.
She placed a cup in front of him and held her own while she sat, her posture taut, her face relaxed. “Go on,” she said, blowing steam as she held the coffee to her lips.
He reached for his wallet and slid the faded photo with its beauty and tragedy, memories and heartbreak, across the table. Munroe paused to look.
“Is that Charity’s daughter?”
The person he’d loved longer and truer than any other being. Charity, who was his fellow childhood survivor. She’d lived the life, knew the pain and trauma better than he, and shared the burden: the lies, the secrets, and the scars.
Logan gazed down at the photo of the little girl with the blond ringlets and bright green eyes, traced his ﬁngers along the edge of it, and then stopped. All reason, all argument, all the words that had been turning around in his head for the past three days ﬂed, and he was left vacant. Logan looked up and staring into Munroe’s eyes said only, “I’ve found her.”
Meet the Author
Born into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe, and denied an education beyond the sixth grade, Taylor Stevens broke free of the cult in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas, and is writing a third Vanessa Michael Munroe novel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The worst has happened, someone thought it'd be a great marketing technique to compare this book to Steig Larsson's series The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Honestly, who wants to read a rip-off of the same thing? I was skeptical, but relief came when I realized I actually did enjoy this book. There are some similarities to Larsson's thrillers, but not a hijack of the bandwagon. Set in Buenos Aries, the search to locate The Chosen's various haven cult houses moves steadily and at a good pace. You won't have to wade through 600 pages of tiny print to get to the end. However, I felt there was enough description, action and background given to make this a feasibly believable story. It is incredible, but the building blocks are there, and everything is checked off and in place. Explanations are given, without lengthy pages of reasoning. I liked the get-to-the point approach and strong characters. My attachment to them was a bit lacking, but I did not read the first book and took that into consideration, placing the fault on myself, not the author. I'd recommend taking this book along on vacation or picking up when in the mood for a snatch and grab thriller. Not a deep-thinking mystery, but contains action and an interesting plot-line that will entertain and hold the readers interest to the final page.
I read Taylor Stevens' first book, 'The Informationist,' on the heels of reading the Stieg Larsson trilogy and I can say in all honestly that I like them all equally. That being said, I thought 'The Innocent' is not quite as good as the first book but better by a mile than most thrillers being published today (including the regurgitated crap by such noted authors as James Patterson, Vince Flynn, Stuart Woods, Jack Higgins, Brad Taylor, etc..). I think Ms. Stevens has a long and lustrous writing career ahead of her and we all will benefit greatly from that. You go Taylor!
The second Vanessa Michael Monroe novel is gripping, hard hitting fiction ... just the way I like it! Vanessa and crew do not disappoint as they head off to South America for a dangerous rescue of a child from a cult. I love this heroine because she's tough but human! Fast paced action and plenty of suspense! I am looking forward to the next one!
Every bit as good as her first! Cant wait for the next one!
I like Michael so much! I loved this book-maybe not quite as much as the Informationist but I am so looking forward to her next book. It really opened my eyes about cults and how they operate. But the story and characters are riveting.
Interesting characters and suspence that keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next.
Thoroughly enjoyed reading another Vanessa Michael Munroe book. You don't have to read the first book - The Informationist - as Taylor Stevens gives a very good background of the characters involved. Of course if you want to read a good book then definitely pick up The Informationist. Can't wait for the next one in the series.
I read "The Informationist" & was interested enough to want to continue. This novel was even better. Michael Vanessa Munroe becomes her own person here; I forgot all about Dragon Tattoos while completely immersed in this taut novel. Could not put it down and read it in a single day -- it's that good. It's an exciting thriller, a love story (actually, a couple of love stories) and even a bit of travelogue, all set in dazzling South America. The characters are well-developed, though it takes time to do so as Munroe slowly pieces together the background of their lives. It was nice to get to further know previous characters and meet new ones. Ms. Stevens' own background reaches deep into this novel. It's worth googling an interview or write-up on her either before or (as I did) after the read and be even more impressed with this work.
I liked Taylor Stevens first book and I like this one even more. Vanessa/Michael continues to present as a believable and interesting character.
In reviewing the debut novel featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, “The Informationist,” I pointed out that ordinarily I react poorly to super-heroes, and called her sort of a bionic woman. However, in that case I set aside my prejudices and looked upon the character favorably. Not so this time. In this sequel, Munroe is considerably less appealing, but no less destructive as an assassin and action figure. The plot is relatively simple, built around a kidnapped child hidden away for eight years in various cult sites, now located in Argentina, subjected to sexual abuse. Munroe is asked by her best friend to rescue the child, now thirteen, and she agrees, in part out of obligation and also to give her something to occupy herself to escape her own demons. It seems that she suffers violent nightmares recounting her past murders. Certainly the novel is as well-written as the first in the series, and the topic obviously is worthwhile. Somehow, however, the overwhelming detail tends to drag, and this reader, at least, found the mind often wandering. The information about the workings and philosophy of the cult seemed superficial, though the rescue of the girl was vivid. I felt, however, that the conclusion was a little too simplified to be realistic, sort of “Oh yeah, let’s end this now.” But on the whole, it is not a bad read, and is, despite the aforementioned reservations, recommended.
Excellent, Could not put down this book. Can't wait for her nex book
I like the series and the main character - Michael. Storylines are very topical, fast-paced with great supporting characters. Overall well-written books - I can't wait for the next one.
Stevens has another hit on her hands with this 2nd Munroe thriller/adventure. She lets us peek into more of Munroe's past as she shows us how Munroe helps locate an abducted child held in a South American cult. Munroe's demons and skills provide thrills; cult details provide the creepy in this novel that's hard to put down.
What a book! Through her Munroe character Stevens pulls aside the veil of secrecy protecting the inner workings of religious cults and shows the human costs of how they function. For someone born into ‘normal’ society it is difficult to understand the complete and utter dependence one experiences in such an environment and the countless barriers making it nearly impossible to break away. But Stevens manages to convey all of this in an intriguing, action-packed thriller that draws the reader into an unfamiliar life in another country. The Argentinian / South American environment she describes all but jumps off the pages, and her ongoing development of the kickass character of Munroe continues to amaze and delight. Munroe is easily the most interesting character I’ve read in decades, and one the reader cannot help but root for.
Book #2 in the Vanessa Michael Munroe Saga ramps up the stakes with a child in danger. I will admit, I have a hard time with this subject. BUT I started this book and COULD NOT STOP. You will see some familiar characters from book #1. And the setting comes alive in a manner that will take you to Buenos Aires. I highly recommend this book.
Sometimes sequels are put out there to capitalize on the popularity of the first novel but this isn't the case with The Innocent. The main character, a lady named Monroe, gathers more colors and a finer insight into what makes her tick. A reluctant hero, you will find yourself rooting for her and, in some cases, talking to the book egging her on. Another slam dunk for Taylor Stevens. You don't have to read The Informationist before reading this one but I would recommend you do.
Great! I loved the 1st in the series and this one is just as good.
Lots of action and suspense