Devour - L.A. Larkin ****
Olivia Wolfe, the figure who is the main character in this new thriller series from L.A. Larkin, is one tough investigative journalist. She's an expert in martial arts and she's hot stuff in the bedroom arts as well, to judge by one particularly steamy scene where all is subsequently revealed in an exclusive newspaper article about her. No, Olivia Wolfe is not the type of journalist to be found sitting at a desk in an office, but rather more likely to be generating the headlines than reporting them.
Wolfe is just back from Afghanistan, battered and bruised, somewhat shocked at the death of a young woman who was providing information for her about the activities of Isis. Shot dead in front of her eyes, the dying words on the lips of the young woman warn of an imminent terrorist attack on London by Da'esh. Her boss at the Post however thinks that this is a matter for the intelligence authorities - you can imagine that Olivia Wolfe thinks differently - and he has another assignment he wants her to look into, one as far away from Afghanistan as you can get.
A British team of scientists led by Professor Michael Heatherton are close to achieving their goal of drilling beneath three kilometres of ice to an Antarctic lake to water that hasn't seen daylight for millions of years. The team hope that Lake Ellsworth could be teeming with ancient life. So why is this assignment being given to a tough war reporter rather than the newspaper's science editor? Well, Heatherton is concerned about sabotage and the suspicious death of one of his team. Someone doesn't want them to succeed and it could be a rival Russian operation, but in such remote and inhospitable environment, it means that one of their own team is most likely involved.
Olivia Wolfe is something of a superwoman obviously, with skills and experience more suited to a secret agent than a journalist. She has contacts in MI6, in the military and in ex-police, she speaks Russian and has even spent time with the Russian troops in the Crimea. As such she's going to find herself heavily involved in the escalating events unfolding in the Antarctic. There is one adversary however who may have the upper hand on Olivia Wolfe. Someone is stalking her, spying on her activities and has hacked into her phone and computer communications. Despite taking every precaution, this person has even managed to follow her, get into her home and leave threatening messages without Olivia being aware of her presence.
And that's just the initial setup.
There's the whole question of what lies beneath the frozen Antarctic lake that has British and Russian intelligence fighting for possession of water samples and trying to keep it under wraps from the public. And while Wolfe is caught in the middle of this very different kind of Cold War (ho-ho), there's a maniac hacking into her communications and manipulating events. The moment Olivia tries to contact anyone or trust anyone it could be the last thing she does. From this set-up Devour is a huge thrill ride of traps, chases, deadly assassins, espionage, "enhanced" interrogation techniques, non-stop on the run action, with barely enough time to fit in a steamy sex session.
Obviously you are required to suspend disbelief at the extent of the huge conspiracy element of this first Olivia Wolfe book, to say nothing of the overheated first-person rantings of a mentally disturbed figure who just happens to be an expert and untraceable computer hacker. If you can get past that, Devour is a good thriller that is at least consistent within its own world, has a strong focus and doesn't cheat the reader by introducing any incredible twists or improbable acting out of character. The only question you might have is around Olivia Wolfe's journalistic ethics. If it's the duty of a reporter to tell the story rather than be the story, then Olivia Wolfe falls very far short of the mark here. There's no question however that she still has some story to tell, and that makes great reading.
Devour by L.A Larkin is published in paperback by Constable on 27th January 2017. It's available as an eBook now.
Devour - L.A. Larkin ****