Vanessa Michael Munroe is a mess, and she only gets messier in Dallas author Taylor Stevens’ new thriller “The Doll.”
The third book in Stevens’ series about Munroe takes the resourceful heroine on a singularly unpleasant mission. After a sex trafficker known as “the Doll Maker” kidnaps Munroe and takes her best friend Logan hostage, Munroe is forced to transport a young actress to a client who wants her as a private slave.
“The Doll” is a solid read, strongly paced and plotted, but it is also a far darker book than its predecessors, the 2011 novel “The Informationist,” which introduced Munroe, and last year’s “The Innocent.” Sex trafficking is grim stuff, and even a fictional account can leave one more than a little nauseated.
In previous books, Munroe — ostensibly a freelance operative who uses her facility with languages, combat skills and ability to blend into a crowd in the service of the highest bidder — has worked in action star fashion, on the side of justice. This time, her loyalty to Logan forces her to do the unthinkable, bounding across Europe’s darkest and most demented corners.
Back in Texas, Munroe’s lover Miles Bradford tries to piece together what is happening and what he can do to aid the woman he loves. (Come on, a summary of a thriller should be that breathless, right?)
I spoke with Stevens back in January 2012, right after “The Innocent,” the second book in the series, was published. Stevens was struggling a bit with comparisons between Munroe and Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” (Marketing materials are still not shy about linking them.)
This is no longer something Stevens need worry about. Munroe is a warrior, an adventurer and hunter. She is also, as this book makes clear, an increasingly unstable and deeply violent woman. Munroe is awfully close to sociopathy, which makes her both more interesting and less human.
It will be intriguing to see if Stevens moves her heroine down this gnarly path, which would make her adventures something quite different from how they began.
Will Munroe pull back from the brink and become a hero on the order of Lee Child’s noble Jack Reacher, or become a truly lost soul, a slave to her own inner demons and a woman convinced of her own righteousness, a la, say, Walter White in “Breaking Bad?”
Taylor Stevens joins John Steele, author of the memoir “War Junkie” and the new crime novel “Angel City,” in conversation at 7 p.m. Wednesday at BookPeople.
Congratulations to Austin cartoonist (and, full disclosure, old friend from college) Jen Sorensen, who picked up the prestigious 2013 Reuben Award for Editorial Cartoons from the National Cartoonists Society.
Her comic strip — which runs in some papers under its old name “Slowpoke” and simply under Sorensen’s name in others — is sharply observed, smartly written and fluidly cartooned. (It appears bi-weekly in the Austin Chronicle under her name.)
“I did not expect it at all,” Sorensen says. “I knew I was nominated, but it was a complete surprise to win.” Sorensen received the award at the NCS dinner in Pittsburgh May 25.
Essentially the Oscar of the cartoon industry and named after Rube Goldberg, few outside of the comics and cartooning field know anything about the Reuben. But, as Sorensen says, to win is “fantastic for me professionally.”
This is a nice little break for Sorensen. She and her husband have bounced around various addresses in Austin for a year and only recently found permanent housing. “We had a terrible time finding a place, and it looked like we weren’t going to be able to stay for the long term,” she says.
As for future collections of her strip, Sorensen says most cartoonists at her level are going the Kickstarter route to self-publish. “I am going to get settled in the new place first,” she says, “then think about a new book.”
The NCS is the world’s largest and most prestigious organization of professional cartoonists and has been around since 1946. The Reuben for editorial cartooning has been presented every year since 1954.
Claire Vaye Watkins, author of the excellent short story collection “Battleborn” (Riverhead), is the first literary guest for Tesseract, a new event series curated by AMOA-Arthouse and Austin-based small press A Strange Object, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. June 20 at the Jones Center (700 Congress Ave.).
The series will feature four programming blocks or “rays” combining literary, musical, cinematic, and interactive segments. Watkins is joined by philosopher Tamler Sommers, a screening of “Beijing Silvermine,” a short documentary on post-Cultural Revolution China and a set from Tele Novella (featuring members of Agent Ribbons, Voxtrot and Belaire). The event is $5 for AMOA-Arthouse members and $10 for non-members. Look for A Strange Object’s first book, “Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail,” the debut story collection from Michener Fellow Kelly Luce, in October.