“Always” by Nicola Griffith
Synopsis: Aud Torvingen is back — contemporary fiction’s toughest, most emotionally complicated noir hero returns to teach a new round of lessons in hard-hitting justice, and to confront new adversaries: her own vulnerability and desire.
The steely shell of Nicola Griffith’s seemingly indomitable protagonist Aud Torvingen appears to be cracking. The six-foot-tall fury (who proved in The Blue Place and Stay that she can kill you as easily as look at you) is shaken by the shocking consequences of the self-defense class she’s been teaching, and her investigation of what seems to be run-of-the-mill real-estate fraud is turning out to be more than she bargained for.
Always brilliantly intertwines the dramatic episodes of Aud’s class with the increasingly complicated investigation that introduces Aud to the limits of self-reliance, and to the scary and beautiful prospect of allowing oneself to depend on other people. What emerges is a thrilling, thoroughly engrossing novel that imbues Griffith’s “classic noir hero” (The New York Times Book Review) with an emotional complexity that far exceeds the boundaries of the genre, and will push Griffith to her well-deserved place at the front rank of new-wave literary crime writers.
5 out of 5 stars
Nicola Griffith is still fairly new to me as an author and quite frankly, I have been missing out.
“Always” is the third book in the Aud Torvingen series and while it can stand as a read-alone book, it does help to read the first two. This is a very fast paced thriller set in Seattle, with an additional story line set in Atlanta.
Let me say, right up front, that I am more than a little in love with Aud. She’s completely self-contained to the point she’s mostly unaware of how people and emotions work. She’s a martial arts expert. She teaches self-defense to a group of women who desperately need it. And, at least in this book, she has to figure out how to be vulnerable.
There are so many parallels between Aud and the author, Nicola Griffith. Griffith lives in Seattle with her partner, taught self-defense classes, and is living with MS which also features prominently in this book. Aud is very real as a character because Griffith is able to draw on so many of her own real life experiences without having to just do research on the subject.
What I liked: Again, this can be read as a stand alone book. There are two separate story lines taking place – one in the present in Seattle and the other taking place in Atlanta just before Aud travels to Seattle. The plot switches between the two but there is never an interruption of the flow of the story.
Aud seems to be a bit of a sociopath at times because her responses are a little off the mark and she does not hesitate to do what she feels needs to be done. There were a few shocking moments in this book which I won’t ruin with a spoiler that speak directly to her personality. She’s extraordinarily pragmatic and sees the world in black and white, no grey areas. She’s also terribly damaged and I feel so protective of her, even though she could kill me with her bare hands.
In the Atlanta story line, she is teaching a group of women self-defense. Aud knows by body language, and words left unsaid who in the group has been brutalized and why they are there. This was a fantastic plot for me and I would have enjoyed reading more about them. Griffith writes so powerfully about how women have been trained from a young age to be “nice” even when our gut instinct is to run. It really made me think.
The Seattle story line is the main plot in this book and that’s where we spend most of our time reading. Aud travels there to check on her real estate investments and ends up caught in her own mystery. There is a new relationship for Aud and I enjoyed reading how her her need for power in all things wars with her new found feelings.
What I did not like: There is a lot of real estate scamming going on that I have zero interest in and zero understanding of. I skimmed much of it.
I loved this book and loved the series. If you are looking for a mystery thriller that features a six-foot lesbian who knows ten different ways to kill you with her bare hands, this book is for you!
The cover art is some of the worst I have ever seen. A fist. A purple fist. Purple maybe as an analogy for a bruise? The fist coming right at you? I like to think about what’s inside the book, not have to figure out what the cover might mean.