The Catch by Taylor Stevens - a five star read and one I would definitely recommend to anyone who loves books that are packed with action and suspense. This package was provided to me by Blogging for Books to review.
I was incredibly blessed to have been chosen to review the newest novel from author Taylor Stevens by the good folks at Blogging for Books. In addition to The Catch, I also received copies of The Informationist (which was recently optioned for film rights), The Innocent, The Doll and The Vessel (which is exclusively an e-title). All of these books comprise the Vanessa Michael Munroe series, and after reading The Catch I can't wait to start these books from the beginning and take part in Michael's incredible journey to this point, finding out more of the history between her and Bradford.
The Catch - the most recent installment in Ms. Taylor's Vanessa Michael Munroe series is an exciting book which I read in my travels to my niece's wedding this past weekend. It is the kind of novel that grabs hold of you and keeps you thinking. I found myself wondering the fate of several characters and puzzling through the connections of the players in the story's game of politics, piracy, and espionage in the middle of family gatherings and the general buzz and happiness of my surroundings. Although I had to put it down (there was visiting and cake eating to do!) I was reluctant to leave the suspense filled African heat of the pages for long.
Here is a brief plot synopsis from the publisher Crown:
Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and information hunter, has a reputation for getting things done—often dangerous and not quite legal things. The difficult and deadly work has left her with blood on her hands and a soul stained with guilt. Having borne the burden of one death too many, Munroe has fled to Djibouti, Africa. There, where her only responsibility is greasing the wheels of commerce for a small maritime security company, she finds stillness—until her boss pressures her to join his team as an armed transit guard on a ship bound for Kenya. Days into the voyage, Munroe discovers that the security contract is merely cover for a gunrunning operation. The ship is invaded off the Somali coast, and in a moment of impulse while fighting her way out, she drags the unconscious captain with her. But nothing about the hijacking is what it seems. The pirates were never after the ship; they’d come for the captain. In chasing him, they make their one mistake: targeting Munroe raises the killer’s instinct she’s tried so hard to bury. Wounded and on the run, Vanessa Michael Munroe will use the life of her catch as bait and bartering chip to manipulate every player with a stake in the ship’s outcome, and find a way to wash her conscience clean.
An adrenaline-fueled ride of foreign intrigue that is filled with double-crosses and boots-on-the-ground scheming, THE CATCH is sure to be one of this summer’s biggest thrillers.I was not familiar with the character of Vanessa Michael Munroe before diving into The Catch although the author did a fine job of outlining Munroe's background just enough to help the reader understand that the character is haunted by her past. She is a brilliant "fixer" and spy for hire who has done a mixture of legal and treacherous acts for her past employers and who is hiding from the things she wants most out of fear that everything she loves becomes tainted and broken. Munroe poses as a man and allows assumptions about her age and gender and her amazing skills with language ease her blend into the African landscape while she tries to quell the demons of her past and search for peace. When she is forced into a job by her employer that turns out to be much more than she was informed of, her attempts at distancing herself from her old life backfire. Somali pirates further invade her plans and when she pulls the unconscious captain of the ship with her into her escape, she winds up involving herself deeply in the lives of the crew, the family of her employer, the political landscape and this man who is now her prisoner. To restore the order to her life she was desperately seeking, Munroe must use her abilities to search for answers about the guns, the ship and the unconscious captain who is also a precious commodity her life may depend on. She has a personal brand of honor that drags her further and further into the quagmire this decision has caused and in effort to pull herself out she is almost consumed by the rage that haunts her past.
I enjoyed many aspects of this novel - the author's descriptions of the African landscape and grasp of the people, cities and cultures of which she writes is fascinating. Although I entered with limited knowledge of the politics and country, Stevens presents a wealth of information on everything from the financing of the pirates, to the vast difference between the wealthy tourists and the locals who will risk their very lives at the prospect of leaving the poverty of their tiny villages. Throughout, the characters were richly drawn and unforgettable. I sometimes find when I read spy novels I get lost in the rush of names and characters, but from Amber, the wife of Munroe's boss to the members of a gang who are described mainly by their clothing, each person Munroe comes in contact with is someone you come to know too. As they are woven into the story and the pattern begins to take shape you can see how each one progresses the plot and easily recall their roles in the unfolding drama.
In the center of the book there is a lone page that is completely black. When I first glanced at it I thought it may be a border on a page that held a map of the area, but when I flipped to it and saw the inky paper staring at me I knew I had to begin reading. I loved this device - I wasn't sure if it was a split where the novel was going to change directions or possibly locations or if it was a marker of a death or event that couldn't be undone. I flipped the pages proceeding it with delight and dread wondering what it meant and what significant event it would mark. I won't spoil it by telling you its mission (what fun would that be?) but I will say that that black page had a tremendous impact on me as a reader and on the story as well. I was delighted to have a physical copy of the book because although I read on my Kindle and enjoy a variety of e-titles, this single black page added an amazing amount of suspense and anticipation to my reading experience.
Although I love to read, it isn't often that a book will have me reaching for it again, but I know that when I start the first book in this series I will come back and re-read this with a new understanding of some of the characters that I didn't get to know from the previous novels. I can't wait to find out more about Samantha and some of the others who were mentioned and who I know must have had considerable page time in the previous books. I'm happy that those folks are waiting for me in the weeks to come.
I would certainly recommend this book - it was published July 15th 2014 and is available in stores
Here's a link to purchase it from Random House which also provides links to other retailers.
Finally, I would also like to tell you briefly about my experiences with the author Taylor Stevens. I dropped her a note on her Facebook page to thank her for the opportunity to read her books. I had The Catch on my "to read" shelf on my Goodreads profile and had entered the giveaway there to win a copy although I wasn't chosen. When it was a stand alone selection on the Blogging for Books site I had already chosen a different novel to review, so I was terribly excited when the opportunity to read the whole series popped up. In response to my thank you she sent a lovely note hoping I would be selected as a reader and hoping I loved her books. I was touched that she took the time to respond so personally and since she has retweeted and favorited many of my Twitter posts about the book. I have never felt so lucky, or that my opinion counted so much with an author. If you're reading this Taylor, you have a fan for life.
Again, a huge thank you to all of the people at Random House and Crown, Ms. Stevens, Blogging for Books and Sarah Breivogel (Executive Publicist at Crown) for generously providing me these wonderful books. I love book mail. It is my favorite mail of all and when the books are awesome and give me new characters to fall in love with, all the better. I hope you all fall in love with the totally bad ass Vanessa Michael Munroe too.
Much Love and Joy to you - that which is found in the pages of books perhaps!