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THE BLUE PLACE
By Nicola Griffith
Avon Books, 1998, (308 pp.) $23
Avon, June 1999, $12.00
Reviewed by Bill Wemple (7/98)
You have to finish this novel to like it. Itís marred by action movie stereotypes, occasional muddy plotting, and sporadic wooden dialogue. But the overall strength and beauty of Griffithís writing smother the technical flaws, and her eventual humanizing of the central character redeems the novel as a whole. THE BLUE PLACE is a love story and a thriller. Aud Torvingen, the central character and first person narrator, is a twenty-nine-year-old former Atlanta police lieutenant whose American father has died, leaving her independently wealthy. Aud, tall and lithe with cement gray eyes, is an action hero who enjoys hurting people. Violence thrills her, transporting her to "a blue place" where she feels "like a hummingbird among elephants, untouchable." She knows weapons, sheís invincible in a fight, and she has a high pain threshold. And sheís above the rules, of course. "I didnít want to work for people whose rules got in the way of being effective," she tells Julia Lyons-Bennet, the woman she comes to love.
Lyons-Bennet runs an art acquisitions and security business. She suspects a recently acquired painting is a forgery and hires an appraiser to authenticate it. As she approaches the appraiserís home late one night to get the painting, the house explodes, an explosion that opens the novel. She engages Aud to investigate.
Audís investigation eventually links the art forgery and explosion to the money laundering activities of a Mexican drug cartel and Atlanta notables. Certain the explosion was meant to destroy Julia as well, Aud persuades her to go to Norway on business. Once there, she believes she can keep Julia out of America until itís safe to return.
The Norway section is an Edenic interlude with Julia. Here in Audís homeland, the latent love between them flourishes but is counterpointed by Audís nagging conviction that dangerís waiting for them. Violence can strike you in the safest of places, she believes, and she declares more than once that people are stupid who relax, content.
As Griffith gives Aud dimension in this section and relies less on stereotypes, the prose sharpens and the plotline firms. This section contains some of the best writing in the book. Her descriptions of Norway are lyrical, almost poetic, as Aud and Julia contentedly relax with each other, violating Audís basic instincts.
You know youíre being set up by Griffith, but it works. Like Aud, youíre caught off guard, startled, when the anticipated violence strikes. Griffith saves her best thriller writing for this last section of the novel. The drug cartel is involved as Norway turns nightmarish for the women. The novel ends as it began, with an explosion.
Despite her super-hero qualities, youíll like Aud when the book is done, a prerequisite for liking this book. First person narrators like Aud who describe their invincibility at length are difficult to like. Books that employ them must succeed on the strength of their plots. Plot in THE BLUE PLACE is weak, so the book must succeed on the strength of its characters and prose. At her best, Griffith is an uncommonly fine writer, and her book finally succeeds when she makes Aud emotional and vulnerable, a real human being.
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