Griffith, Nicola. The Blue Place.

NY: Morrow, 1998.

At twenty-nine, Aud Torvingen no longer wanted to be associated with the Atlanta Police Department for various reasons, not even the elite squad, so she retired and went into private security consulting. This was made easier by the fact that she’s also moderately wealthy, being the daughter of a successful Chicago businessman and a Norwegian diplomat who is now that country’s ambassador to the UK. She also has a deep, rich talent when it comes to violence.

As she notes, after first killing an armed intruder when she was eighteen, “violence feels good. It’s so simple and clear.” She remembers her feelings at that moment: “He had a gun, I had a flashlight, but I had taken him, and in the moment of doing so I’d felt faster, denser, more alive than ever before.” She controls this urge when its use is inappropriate, but when violent action is called for by circumstances, it takes her to her “blue place.” But she still has a tendency to seek out dangerous situations. “Danger is not a game. Danger is a casually violent Viking. It doesn’t care about motivation or intention or explanation.”

Aud is also sort of a superheroine-type — six feet tall (that Viking heritage), very good looking, multi-talented, and a dyke. (Her word.) In fact, a Lesbian approach to the world informs all of this author’s work, and there’s a very romantic and quite affecting love story woven into this thriller.

So, she’s out for a run one evening and literally bumps into a slightly younger woman, Julia Lyons-Bennet, who turns out to be an art broker specializing in corporate displays and museums. And a moment later, a house nearby explodes, and a noted art investigator — and Julia’s close friend — is killed. After Julia convinces herself Aud had nothing to do with the death (which the police decide, on very shaky evidence, is drug-related), she hires Aud to find out what actually happened. And the plot takes off from there, spitting sparks all the way.

There’s some very poetic, highly visual writing here. “Her hands hung at her sides as though she did not know where they came from or what to do with them now they were here.” Griffith also likes to toss out bits of uncommon and even arcane knowledge on every third page — the technical difference between a fake painting and a forgery, why you shouldn’t drink glacial melt-water, how gyms have changed and how they differ in atmosphere, and the fact that absolutely anything can be a weapon, even a wet washcloth. Aud relies on woodworking for relaxation and we learn a lot about that, too, and about the ethnological history of Norway.

However, the author also has a tendency to wander off down narrative byways which, while interesting in their own right, have nothing whatever to do with advancing the main story. Aud takes on the job of escorting/bodyguarding a rather hopeless young Castilian woman for the Spanish consulate — and when, fifty pages later, the visitor flies back to Madrid, we never see her again. When Aud and Julia are driving up through Norway, heading for a vacation at the family lodge, we get an extended retelling of a folktale about how the trolls always win. A dozen pages that could have been summarized in two or three just as effectively.

All in all, though, it’s a gripping and very well-written story that will have you gritting your teeth, waiting to find out if the foreshadowed worst is really going to happen.

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