Book Review: Lola on Fire by Rio Youers

Lola on Fire by Rio Youers combines vengeance and deceit, love and bullets, and secrets and twists in this high-octane action thriller with a vibrant emotional core that sees a desperate brother caught in a dangerous world that he and his sister must battle to survive.

Brody Ellis is desperate. He’s 24 and has no job, a landlord breathing down his neck for overdue rent, and a younger sister in desperate need of expensive medication. With his father dead for six months and his mother out of the picture for over a decade, he has to shoulder everything himself.

Out of options, Brody decides to rob a gas station with a fake gun. The stick-up itself is a success, but in keeping with his typical bad luck, Brody’s wallet ends up in the hands of a bystander as he leaves—a bystander named Blair who decides to turn his bleak misfortune into her golden opportunity.

Blair has an evil stepmother, it seems, who’s claimed a jewelry set that should rightfully be hers. If Brody will slip into Blair’s palatial house and steal the diamonds for her, she’ll give him back his wallet and neglect to inform the cops of his misdeeds. Firmly backed into a corner, he has no choice but to accept her deal.

And that’s when things go from bad to absolutely catastrophic.

Brody breaks in to find not a box of diamonds waiting for him but a very bloody murder scene—one surrounded by cameras, which have all recorded his face. And then, Blair calls to inform him that her father is, in fact, the notorious mobster Jimmy Latzo—and now he’s coming for him.

“He knows what you look like, but he doesn’t know who you are—”




“Right. But he’s already got people working on it. His top guys. It’ll likely take them a couple of days to track you down. No longer than a week. You should use this time to get the hell out of Dodge.”


“Why are you telling me this?”


“I don’t know. Maybe I’m not the devil you think I am.”


“You’re going to hell,” he said, and cracked a mad smile.


“Run,” she said, the pounding-nails tone back in her voice. “I’m serious, Brody, if my dad finds you, he’s going to hurt you in a hundred different ways. And then he’ll hurt you again.”


“My sister,” Brody said weakly. More tears crept from his eyes.


“If you’re lucky, he’ll kill you first.”


“I hate you.”


Silence between them. Ten seconds. No longer.


“Beat feet, Bro. Out of town. Out of state.” Her voice was still remarkably controlled. “Nowhere is too far.”

As awful as all of this is, it’s only scratching the surface of the true horror Brody and his sister, Molly, find themselves caught up in. It turns out Blair is more than what she seems, and all of this bad luck has been carefully orchestrated for one purpose: to drive the siblings back to their long-absent mother, a woman with very bloody secrets and a violent past intertwined with the mad Jimmy Latzo.

A woman called Lola Bear, who burned Latzo’s empire to the ground 26 years ago.

Brody’s palms moved from his elbows to his forehead. Scraps of information flickered through his mind: Karl Janko beaten up and drowned in a barrel; his father plummeting to his death from the roof of the Folgt Building; Jimmy Latzo’s fiery collapse in 1993. The authorities suspected gang warfare, according to the numerous articles Brody had read, but there was another theory: that an anonymous soldier had been responsible. The work of one vengeful man.


Or one woman, Brody thought.


“I saw Lola briefly before she left,” Renée said. “That was the last time I saw her. I could still smell the smoke.”

Lola on Fire is pure dynamite. From page one, Youers throws us directly into a violent world fueled by revenge, populated by predatory monsters and their prey. Between the explosive action sequences is a slow-burn thriller that smokes ominously until we’re as trapped as Brody and Molly and have no choice but to see things through to the bitter (and bloody) end.

This is a story that reads like a high-octane blockbuster film; Youers has a real gift for visualizing brutal combat and gruesome injuries. Lola herself comes across as a combination of John Wick and Beatrix Kiddo, and it’s easy to imagine a movie adapt starring Charlize Theron or Uma Thurman in the titular role.

It is too bad that we only get a glimpse of Lola in her heyday; if this book has a flaw, it’s that the living weapon Lola isn’t given enough space to shine on center stage. But then, Youers’s focus is more on exploring “the sins of the parent,” and he’s done a fantastic job making Brody and Molly sympathetic, compelling characters we root for from the get-go.

This is a thriller that, for all of its extreme violence and Very Nasty Characters, still maintains a vital emotional core. Brody and Molly deeply love one another, and Brody’s genuine devotion to his sister propels much of the story. Things often look incredibly dire for our heroes, but they push forward with the hope that it’ll somehow turn out alright in the end. In an often nihilistic genre, it’s a real breath of fresh air to have the promise of a light at the end of the tunnel and the focus on a wholesome familial love rather than a romantic or obsessive love.

Lola on Fire is compelling, compulsive, and exciting as hell. It’s guaranteed to get your blood pumping and your adrenaline surging—don’t be surprised if you find yourself gasping or shouting along with the characters. If you’re looking for something to snap you out of a slump or drive the winter blues away, this is one red hot adventure sure to satisfy.

Check out Rio Youers’s guest post on the role of books in providing a safe space to examine society!

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