Stop right here if you can’t abide a moral crusade. Right on the zeitgeist, author Barry Eisler follows in the footsteps of writers like Andrew Vachss with his latest standalone thriller. The protagonist is Livia who, superficially, looks like the typical kickass feisty female vigilante investigator. She has Olympic class martial arts skills, gets her thrills on a 150mph motorcycle and preys on sexual predators – using her feminine attributes to exploit the hunter/hunted situation. That’s where all the gratifying action is at. The back story contains the troubling social commentary: Livia was sold into sexual slavery as a child, internationally trafficked by criminals and physically abused during her formative years. So this is a full-on revenge story, but it’s one with a hardcore moral compass.
The action switches in short, alternating chapters between ‘now’ and ‘then’. Adult Livia is a Seattle cop investigating sex crimes who gets her after-hours kicks provoking and – then eradicating – rapists. Child Livia is tempered by years of sexual abuse and the trauma of being unable to save her younger sister; the discipline, self-determination and friends she finds in physical training and masterclass combat prevent her from becoming a monster herself… Almost.
Perhaps the bravest thing that Eisler does in this book is to avoid representing Livia as a one-dimensional angel of death on a vengeance spree. Instead he acknowledges the ‘generational’ effect in which the victim ‘inherits’ the cruelty of the abuser. A powerfully dark force rises in Livia (big tip of the hat to the great red dragon, here), one which she can’t quite control. Her personality and sexuality are warped, and fuel her risky, twisted behaviours…
The forensic attention to detail which Livia employs to cover her tracks is superb – Eisler has a fine eye for procedural minutiae – as are the action sequences and descriptions of tight jujitsu fights. It’s obvious when he’s on familiar ground as with the martial arts scenes; the writing roars along with an authentic ‘muscle memory’ to the prose. By contrast, Livia’s bike riding feels artificial and rather contrived: it doesn’t have the feel of first-hand experience.
Eisler’s writing is straightforward, matter of fact, not especially elaborate. So ‘Livia Lone’ lacks the brooding bleak depths of Vachss’ Burke books. The over-riding emotional impact is distaste, not blood-black bitter hatred. The child sex sequences are intended to be revolting but they stay on the ‘domestic’ side of the border: I’d rate this a 15, not an 18. I would have preferred to spend less time with the children and more time with the adult Livia – exploring more of her inner conflict and psychological contradictions. She’s one step away from being a fully-fledged sociopath, and those grey areas are more interesting to me than the nuts and bolts of corrupt politicians and biker gangs. But that would take the story away from the mainstream, and I imagine the author wants as many people to read this book as possible.
I suspect it’ll go down a storm with fans of ‘domestic noir’. Other readers may feel somewhat hectored / lectured by the ‘all heterosexual men are evil’ theme which kinda takes the helm now and then. I hope there’s scope for the central character to appear again in a more mature form; she has massive potential if Eisler chooses to walk on the wilder side.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Livia Lone by Barry Eisler is available as an ebook or paperback
THE CORRUPTION OF CHASTITY: just £1.99 at Amazon