Griffith, Nicola. Always.

NY: Penguin, 2007.

This is the third novel about the lethally vikingesque Aud Torvingen, Atlanta ex-cop, who can — and has — killed men with her bare hands. The narrative this time consists of parallel stories, the first concerning her self-defense class for women, which is far more than just karate kicks and ju jitsu holds. Aud insists on teaching her middle-class housewife students how not to be afraid and the way she does that is fascinating. But even Aud can’t predict where they will go from there.

The second story, in alternate chapters set a few months later, takes Aud to Seattle with her old friend, Dornan, to look into some problems with her commercial real estate holdings. (She’s also now seriously wealthy, thanks to her late father.) The warehouse in question is presently leased to an independent film company which is having all sorts of problems that don’t actually seem to be their fault. That interests Aud, too, and she naturally begins poking into things. In addition, her mother, the Norwegian ambassador to the Court of St. James, is visiting Seattle on trade business and has brought along her new husband. Mom seems to have changed a good deal in this new relationship, which also puzzles her daughter. And Dornan? He’s just along for the ride and because Aud the Loner feels the need of his company and steadying influence.

Griffith’s writing style is much improved in general terms from her first novel and the characters she portrays, especially Aud, are very detailed and multidimensional. There are also some fairly steamy lesbian love scenes that are actually very nicely done. And the climax is intense and satisfying.

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