The Doll
Taylor Stevens
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Buy *The Doll* by Taylor Stevensonline

The Doll
Taylor Stevens
Broadway Books
352 pages
March 2014
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Taylor Stevens treads where the faint-hearted dare not go: the land of violence, greed and opportunism, a vast underbelly of worldwide criminal enterprise—in this case human trafficking. Having established her protagonist in previous novels, Doll thrusts Vanessa Michael Munroe into the dark heart of a network controlled by a man called the Doll Maker, a calculating opportunist bereft of soul or humanity who feeds on the suffering of his victims. He is the top supplier of his client's most perverse fantasies, victims on special order for extravagant prices.

Kidnapped in broad daylight just outside the Texas offices of Miles Bradford's Capstone Securities Consultants, the umbrella under which she operates, Michael is delivered to Europe. There she is confronted with an outrageous proposition put to her by the Doll Maker: deliver kidnapped celebrity Neeva Eckridge to the waiting client, and Michael's best friend, Logan, will be allowed to live. Logan and Michael share secrets of a tragic past which they will never divulge, soul mates in the pain of their childhoods, bound together in loyalty for life.

While Bradford focuses on Michael's disappearance, Logan—also in Texas—is abducted and brought to a secret location, a pawn in coercing Michael to cooperate in the Doll Maker's elaborate plan. Logan's life is not negotiable to Michael, his disappearance the tightening noose around her neck as she concedes to the demands of a madman in delivering an innocent victim to her certain abuser. Michael has to trust that Bradford, her lover as well as her partner, will act in her best interests, as she focuses all her energy on surviving the handover and saving Logan.

Intuitively realizing that Logan will be a target, Bradford and his team scour the area in a nearly impossible search. The team is aware that Logan may be the means of controlling Michael, that finding Logan will free her to act as she sees fit. In this mad world, where human beings are mere commodities for perverted collectors and the Doll Maker entertains himself by torturing his helpless victims, the action is condensed into a deadly cat-and-mouse game through the streets of Europe. In Texas, fears for Logan's survival are exacerbated by the copious amounts of blood found at each phase of the local search. Bradford has to trust that Michael will survive an escalating nightmare.

From one frantic scene to another, Stevens creates unbearable tension both in Texas and in Michael's harrowing journey with Neeva. The girl is frantic to escape, but Michael points out that she is the lesser of two evils. Under constant visual surveillance and on GPS, Michael approaches the moment of decision, each minor infraction met with a punishment by the Doll Maker, his sick messages delivered via images on the cell phone supplied to her. As the raging waters of Michael's damaged psyche threaten to flood her brain, washing away logic and reason, shee balances on a treacherous precipice, fearing for Logan but unwilling to be the instrument of Neeva's destruction.

Michael is a creature of contemporary society: females finally accepted as superheroes in a field dominated by men. Stevens uses her protagonist's ability to morph from female to male, her dexterity and her wits, to establish Michael as a viable heroine. She moves confidently through a man's world with impunity, but only her humanity stands between Michael and the monster she might become: "The pain on the inside is what keeps you human. Never forget that."

Couched in a non-stop thriller, this larger-than-life revenge heroine never disappoints, facing once more the great, hungry maw that preys on the innocent. Each time the head of the serpent is cut off, another grows in its place, symbolic of the evil that feeds on the helpless, the weak and the careless. In The Doll, Michael strikes a blow for those destroyed by a stone-faced monster, the threat of death insufficient to silence the voices of those who would throw off the yoke of victim.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2013

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