Written by Taylor Stevens — Taylor Stevens has a remarkable insider view of religious cults. She was herself raised in the Children of God cult, moved all around the globe, denied basic education, and sent to beg on the streets by cult leaders. When she finally broke free of the movement, she took symbolic revenge by publishing novels revealing the hidden and dangerous world of international conspiracies and secret societies. This bestselling series of novels features the androgynous covert information specialist Vanessa Michael Munroe. Described as the ‘next Lisbeth Salander’, this damaged and highly dangerous martial arts supremo has childhood demons of brainwashing and abuse to overcome. She is a loner, ruthlessly efficient, hard on her enemies and unsentimental about her friends and lovers, but not devoid of compassion.
In The Innoent, Vanessa is hired by Logan, an old friend and fellow survivor of a childhood spent in a cult known as The Chosen. Logan and several of his friends have been searching for a little girl who was abducted eight years ago by The Chosen. They believe they’ve located her in a commune in Argentina, but they need Vanessa’s help to confirm the sighting, infiltrate the secretive community and get little Hannah out.
What follows is an all-action thriller with plenty of pace and graphic scenes of violence, but also frequent side trips to the darker side of the human psyche mixed in. It crosses from the US to Morocco and Argentina. All of the protagonists in this novel are not just flawed but unreliable and well on the way to becoming psychotic (unless they are controlled by medication). I’m not sure if that is the point the author wishes to make – that this kind of childhood upbringing in a severely restrictive cult harms an individual for life – but it does make for rather draining reading. In spite of that, this is a well-paced, well-plotted novel, full of tense moments
The best thing about the book is Munroe herself. She is a modern day superwoman: adept with any number of weapons, up-to-date with the latest spyware, fluent in many languages, and able to disguise herself everywhere she goes. The cult of the lone gunman is such a constant in American fiction, but here it gains a bit of momentum because it is a woman who’s in charge for a change.
The book provides some interesting discussions about brainwashing, individual choice and the multitude of pressures of the so-called cults. Having studied these new religious movements for many years, I whole-heartedly concur with how some of the characters view the complexity of such communities. There are some loving, supportive relationships between cult members. Munroe finds herself almost succumbing to the ‘love-bombing’ (showering potential new recruits with affection and charm). There is an ‘us against the world’ mentality which clearly holds a strong fascination for converts. The headlines may be about abuse, but they are not quite as prevalent as one might suppose (nor are they exclusive to cults, as recent scandals in the Catholic church have shown). The psychological abuse is less visible but ultimately more pervasive. One of the characters says: “Don’t get me wrong. There was sexual abuse… But that’s just one of so many dishes served on the smorgasbord of my childhood. Just one. Nobody reports about the extreme discipline, or being separated from our families, or education deprivation, or the lack of medical care… That’s not entertaining enough…”
The author is in an unique position to give us a fuller picture, but perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect her to be fully objective after her difficult childhood. Still, it’s a shame that this story ultimately succumbs to precisely the sensationalist aspects of religious cults which it accuses journalists of pouncing upon. As a tightly plotted action thriller, however, it’s a great book to take along on holiday.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars