I’m going to do a slightly different format since copying and pasting five different synopses might be cumbersome. Click the links above to view each book over at Goodreads.
I don’t read a lot of thrillers, even though it’s a genre I enjoy in other formats. Too often, book thrillers feel contrived, stereotypical, or too dated. It’s like a Michael Bay movie: entertaining and explosion-heavy, but no sustainable substance. I figured that the Vanessa Michael Munroe series would fall into that category – a summer action read that was heavy on things that go boom! and light on emotional resonance.
Lesson One: Don’t underestimate Vanessa Michael Munroe (or her creator, Taylor Stevens). Stevens creates a character that is distant and reserved but wholly present; someone who should be unlikable but is the protagonist you didn’t know you were rooting for.
Each book starts with a catalyst that didn’t pull me in – at first. With each chapter, more of the mystery unravels and I would find myself more eager to continue with VMM. Her adventures – and vendettas – are shared with the reader.
Lesson Two: This is a highly personal series. Stevens’ background contains similar elements to several of the characters/plots of her series. When she writes about religious communities (cult sounds like a strong word, but I don’t think it is) and breaking away from repressive relationships/families, it’s coming from a place of familiarity. Yet VMM doesn’t feel like a stand-in for the author. There’s a detached neutrality that ensures VMM isn’t Stevens in fictionalized format.
Going along with the personal notion, I found the book plots to be more intimate. Sure, the decisions and actions may have long-reaching implications outside the immediate cast of characters, but this series is not about saving the world – or even <insert country of origin>, a la the Bond series or a Tom Clancy novel. It often boils down to saving one person’s life. For example, in The Catch, VMM makes the choice to save a captain’s life. That decision is the inciting event for the bulk of the novel’s action.
Lesson Three: Identity is temporary.
In the series, VMM is referred to as Munroe (narrator), Essa (other character), or Michael (other characters) – not including any aliases she takes on as result of her work. It’s a brilliant author choice; nicknames offer more clues into our characters, and what better way to reinforce the nationless status VMM often adopts?
Lesson Four: Something unexpected will happen. Stevens knows how to avoid settling into common territory. Her first three books start with VMM working to save a young girl or woman. This involves brilliant exchanges about gender, like this snippet:
But The Catch throws all the familiarity aside: no female MacGuffin catalyst. No sidekick/support stepping in early on – this is VMM at her best and worst. No client compelling her. No safety net. And while you trust VMM to make it out okay (with held breath and rapid-fire reading), you never realize how dangerous she really is until this point – because without a client, she can be the one calling the shots, and without a safety net, she doesn’t have another moral tether. The latest book is a jolt of energy, with gripping scenes layered with intense vulnerability I wasn’t anticipating.
If you’re in the market for a new series to add to your reading list, I highly recommend this one!
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I selected the book based on my own preference, and all opinions are my own.