Published by Thomas & Mercer on October 25, 2016
Livia Lone follows a current trend in “vigilante justice” novels. A woman who suffered horrific abuse as a child becomes a hardened killer as an adult who avenges crime victims by killing their victimizers. My favorite of those is Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe. Livia Lone struck me as an attempt to blend Munroe with Barry Eisler's professional killer, John Rain. Unfortunately, Lone isn’t as interesting as either Munroe or Rain. In fact, Livia Lone (speaking of either the character or the book) is predictable, too often boring, and way over-the-top.
Livia Lone is a cop, but in her off-duty time she murders rapists. That hobby lets her kill time while she waits for her true prey to be released from prison. Timothy Tyler was once her captor, and she wants him to tell her what happened to her sister after they were both trafficked as children from Thailand. Livia’s backstory is told in chapters that alternate with the present day.
The chapters set in the past explain how Livia came to be the person she is. Barry Eisler describes (in scenes that deliberately avoid being too graphic) sexual abuse by her captors and then by the influential American who adopts her. Contrasted with the evil adults who abused Livia are good adults who are kind to Livia. Livia’s backstory comes across as manipulative rather than honest, and characters from her past seem to exist only to make the reader cheer or boo.
In the present, Livia is a police detective specializing in sex crimes, particularly those involving children. Livia is on a crusade. That’s a bad quality in a real cop because crusades impair objectivity, but it’s also a bad quality in a fictional cop because crusaders do not tend to have multi-faceted personalities. That’s the novel’s biggest problem.
Nothing about Livia is surprising. Her life follows a blueprint. She is the icon of an abused child who overcomes her past by empowering herself. The only thing unique or interesting about Livia is that she conflates killing bad people with sexual bliss.
Other characters suffer from the same one-dimensionality. Livia’s classmate, his father, and a cop who eventually becomes involved in her life are such exemplars of good they should be wearing halos. Villainous characters are exemplars of pure evil. That’s common in thrillers (many readers seem to like a clear dichotomy between good and evil) but the failure to reflect the real world keeps me from recommending the novel to readers who are looking for something that might make them think.
With the exception of a few good people, every male Livia knows is a rapist or a child molester. Other than Livia, nearly every female is a victim, and they all agree that murdering victimizers is the best kind of justice. It’s enough to make me give up on the human race.
To give the story some action, Eisler has Lone confronting an attacker from time to time, but the scenes are so contrived that they do nothing to change the story’s predictable nature. Some of the abuse visited upon victims (but not Livia, because readers wouldn’t like that) is taken so far over-the-top that I just couldn’t believe any of it.
As I mentioned, the only interesting aspect of Livia is her kinky sexuality, even though I didn’t believe a moment of it. Oddly, Livia needs to get rough with a guy before she can enjoy sex with him. Of course, if a guy needs to get rough with her in order to enjoy sex, she kills him (which in itself is a kind of a sexual experience for her). The double standard would be an interesting character trait if it were acknowledged and explored, but like anything else that might give complexity to the story, it’s just ignored. Still, Livia’s kink is the only interesting aspect of her personality. People who feel justified about being a serial killer should be interesting, but Livia isn’t.
I’m disappointed that Livia Lone isn’t a better, deeper book. It is written in prose that flows smoothly and, while it could have been much tighter, the story moves at a reasonable pace. Many of Eisler’s fans will like this new series despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of nuance. I have no problem with that, but I don’t plan to read another one in this series and I can’t recommend this one. It gets a big ho-hum from me.