RogerBW's Blog

The Blue Place, Nicola Griffith 13 August 2015

1998 lesbian noir mystery/romance; first in Griffith's series about Aud Torvingen, bodyguard and borderline psychopath in Atlanta. An art historian's house is burned to the ground, with him in it; six kilos of cocaine are found in the garage. A drug-related execution, or something odder?

I'm a bit reluctant to use the Mary Sue label, as I think it's an over-easy way to cast aspersions on a character, but I think it's appropriate here. Aud is tall, exotic and beautiful, proficient in violence, rich enough that she doesn't have to work unless she wants to, daughter of a diplomat who moves in British high society, and an expert woodworker. And can seduce women by playing pool at them.

On the other hand the book effectively portrays her as grounded in her physicality: whether she's digging over her garden, driving, or breaking necks, she's always focused and in the moment. The growing attraction between Aud and her latest client Julia is utterly obvious to the reader well before Aud notices, but I'm sure that's a deliberate move on Griffith's part: Aud simply doesn't have room in her head for relationships any bigger than one-night stands.

Other characters are less developed, but they still manage to come across as plausible and real people; this is in the noir style, so pretty much everyone has at least a touch of corruption, but rather than simply be Bad Guys they have their individual sins and attitudes.

The real weak point is the plot. It's a very simple tale of fraud and cover-up, and the only thing that keeps it going as long as it does is sloppy thinking by Aud. When things in Atlanta seem to be wrapped up, the story suddenly shifts to Norway, where the pace becomes literally glacial as the reader is smothered in page after page of description of how wonderful it all is. I at least found the course of the plot thereafter entirely predictable except in fine details, and was rather disappointed not to have my expectations overturned. That soured the ending for me, but my reaction to the book overall was rather more positive.

Basically this is a character study of Aud, made better than it deserves to be by the quality of Griffith's writing. I'll continue with this series, though probably not soon; this at least is not a book to be dashed through quickly. Followed by Stay.

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