LA Larkin brings journalist and kick arse action hero Olivia Wolfe back for a second go round in her latest thriller Prey. Wolfe was introduced in 2016’s Devour, a technothriller that saw Wolfe travel to Antarctica, fall in love with a Russian strongman and deal with a mysterious stalker all while trying to save the world. While some of those details are germane to Prey, Larkin ensures that no deep familiarity is required, quickly bringing new readers up to speed.
So to the plot, which is kind of complicated but in the end boils down to a battle of wits between Olivia and a James Bond-style super villain who runs a global criminal syndicate. Olivia is put on the case when an informant commits suicide, although the reader knows this was a carefully staged murder and Olivia, of course, immediately suspects foul play. Her informant was about the spill the beans on the British Chancellor of the Exchequer and some dodgy international bank accounts that he is connected to. Following the money takes Olivia quickly to Johannesburg and a popular school principal who is also in the middle of a money laundering ring. Despite being warned off by her old nemesis and special operations officer, Detective Superintendent Dan Casburn, Wolfe keeps investigating, bringing her into the sights of both a deadly, twisted assassin and corrupt elements of the South African police force.
This is pure thriller fare. The dangers to Olivia mount as she comes closer to unmasking the leader of the international crime syndicate. Despite being given a chance to leave South Africa with her life she stays to continue her investigation, ending up on a private game reserve where more pieces of the puzzle are revealed. But the threat is never far away and Olivia often finds herself digging deep into her personal arsenal to fight or scheme her way out of trouble, particularly as the relentless assassin closes in. And all the time, lurking in the wings is her lover Vitaly Yushkov, protecting her but also possibly in league with her enemies such that it always unclear whether she can fully trust him despite her feelings.
While there are plenty of other criminal activities, the plot ultimately revolves around the issue of poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife, particularly rhinoceros horn. In particular, whether the global ban on the trade of rhino horn has been a good thing for the species or whether it has just increased the price on illicit markets; and whether legalising the trade will allow money to flow into conservation efforts and actually do more to protect the species. Larkin makes it clear how she feels about the plight of the rhinoceros and their conservation. But this is not a soapbox and she does not firmly come down on either side of the debate around the decriminalisation of international trade in animal products.
More than ever, the Olivia Wilde books feel like a female-led James Bond series. There is country hopping, constant well-written action, engaging side-characters, great cliffhangers, a seemingly unstoppable killer and an amoral, monologuing villain complete with his own lair. But while there are life and death stakes for the main characters, by keeping the ultimate stakes fairly low (there is no world-ending conspiracy in this book, just attempted manipulation of global rule setting processes for profit), Larkin manages to make the whole endeavour feel more grounded and believable. And while fans of the series would welcome Olivia back for a third adventure no matter what, Larkin makes sure to leave a sting to keep them a little on edge until that time.
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