RogerBW's Blog

Always, Nicola Griffith 30 July 2021

2007 lesbian noir crime; third and last in Griffith's series about Aud Torvingen. Aud travels to Seattle to meet her mother, who's making a rare trip to the USA with her new husband. There's also a question of an underperforming commercial property…

There's also, at the end of each chapter, a series of flashbacks to self-defence classes Aud taught in Atlanta before she left. This brings on the usual problems of a double narrative, and it's heavily foreshadowed as having Gone Wrong, which it duly does in a predictable manner; but more significantly it feels as though it's a vehicle for Griffith to infodump about psychology and the trained reluctance of women not to comply with what men want. I mean, fine, it's a thing people need to know… but when this came out I'd already read The Gift of Fear and several of the studies mentioned here; the subjects were part of casual discussion in the circles I moved in. Here it feels like a curiously old-fashioned thing to introduce as a new and revolutionary idea in a book where someone also complains about a person who still likes to use fax instead of email.

But anyway. The underperforming commercial property is the result of a blatantly obvious scam, the sort of thing that only goes undetected because nobody cares enough to look; but it's the vehicle by which Aud is introduced to a film production and a new relationship to mess up, saved only by her (non-gay) best friend who tells her the obvious things that she hasn't worked out for herself. The central psychological error she makes is well-drawn and utterly in character, but is that enough to hang a book on?

Yeah yeah I know I complained before that Aud was too good at everything, and she has reasons for being a bit rubbish in this book, but the balance seems to have gone again; all that joy in physicality that was so important in the earlier books doesn't have an outlet here, indeed seems mostly forgotten. There are some moments at the end when this returns, but mostly the action of the book consists of Aud talking rather than doing.

I've enjoyed this series; they're well-written and they have interesting people in them, even if the plots are basic. But this definitely feels like the weakest of them; though the first two books were written a year apart, this came out eight years later, and whatever the reasons for that, no matter how competent an author and how good their intentions, a delay always makes for a change in style. (No-one can write the same book twice… except perhaps David Eddings.)

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