Barry Eisler is back, and then some. LIVIA LONE, its somewhat uninspiring title notwithstanding, may be the best and strongest work of his storied career. It’s a book that is nearly impossible to put down, given that it features the protagonist of the year and some sinus-clearing descriptive prose that will be described as “over-the-top” in some quarters and “rough but necessary” in others. We’ll discuss that at further length shortly.
First, let’s talk about LIVIA LONE. The novel is divided roughly equally between “Then” and “Now,” with the shifts in time occurring at very irregular intervals. Livia Lone is very much in the “Now.” When we meet her, she is a Seattle PD sex-crimes detective; when she is off duty, she is very, very much on the job. Livia treads the line between law enforcement and vigilante, and as we learn what transpired in the “Then,” it becomes hard to fault her.
"It’s a book that is nearly impossible to put down, given that it features the protagonist of the year and some sinus-clearing descriptive prose that will be described as 'over-the-top' in some quarters and 'rough but necessary' in others."
“Then” begins in rural Thailand. Livia, who was a 13-year-old named Lahee, and her 11-year-old sister Nason lived in abject poverty with her parents and older brother. Lahee had taken it upon herself to raise her younger sister, going hungry herself so that Nason could get something to eat. As bad as their life was, it became far, far worse when their parents sold them to strangers who ripped them abruptly from their childhood home. The girls were placed in shipping containers with some other unfortunates, and the nightmare began in earnest when they were ultimately separated. Lahee was eventually discovered in Portland, Oregon, and was adopted into the Lone family. While her material needs were met, her waking and sleeping hours were the stuff of nightmares. Her only goal, though, was to find her younger sister.
As “Then” slowly unfolds in the narrative, revealing how the frightened 13-year-old became the extremely driven young woman of the title, Livia in the “Now” begins to engineer a sting operation ostensibly aimed at bringing down a drug dealer. Her hidden agenda is to get her one last best chance of hunting down the person who separated her from Nason and, hopefully, to determine what happened to her. It is a terrible path, fraught with danger, and will lead Livia to a place where she had hoped never to return and from which she may not come back.
LIVIA LONE moves like a freight train, and it’s one that you shouldn’t attempt to board without fair warning. There is a discussion among authors and readers about how much is “too much” where graphic descriptions are concerned, and I would submit to you that Eisler treads the line here. The book deals with human trafficking, and he does not flinch when describing what is done to children, to the point where one might question whether or not he crosses the line. I think he does, but it’s a line that in this case has to be crossed.
We are familiar with the terms “human trafficking” and “sex trafficking.” To paraphrase Werner Heisenberg, the use of children in such matters is not just worse than we imagine; it is worse than we can imagine. Eisler rubs the reader’s nose in it, and if that is what it takes to raise outrage over this situation to a proper level, then more power to him. Just don’t say you weren’t warned. Eisler does not hint around the subject, nor does he flinch from the violence that his avenging angel visits upon those who cross her path.
Jump on what appears to be the start of a terrific new series. Just be mindful of the subject matter.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 28, 2016