So, THE BLUE PLACE, by Nicola Griffith.
It’s a mystery! With suspense and some violence and a beautifully handled romance.
No doubt I could have found that out reading reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, but instead I found it out by, you know, reading the book. Definitely kind of weird not to know ahead of time.
It’s not a thriller because the action isn’t nonstop and the stakes don’t rachet up every chapter. But the way Griffith handled the violent scenes was amazing, I just loved the stream-of-consciousness thing, like here:
It unfolded like a stop-motion film of a blooming rose: bright, beautiful and blindingly fast. And I wanted to laugh as I ducked and lunged; wanted to sing as I sank my fist wrist deep in an abdomen, whipped an elbow up, up through a fragile jawbown, slid to the side of a thrusting arm and took it, turning it, levering up, letting the body follow in an ungraceful arc. . . . Body under my hands folding to the floor, not moving. Nothing moving but me, feeling vast and brilliant with strength, immeasurable and immortal.
Wow. I mean, wow. Look at that super-long sentence in the middle, doesn’t that just PULL you through the action? Whoosh! How about that reaction to violence: isn’t this a wonderful character? This woman, Aud Torvingen, could be a very scary person, couldn’t she? Turns out that’s why she’s an ex-cop, because for her violence has so much potential to be addictive.
But the violence doesn’t scare us, because we’ve already seen, in an earlier episode, that she is also kind — kind when it’s not necessary, not fundamentally important to her; kind to people who aren’t (initially) at all attractive. Here’s where I really began to like Aud as a person:
I tucked [Beatriz’s] face into my shoulder so she wouldn’t see the stares [after breaking down and making a scene], and carried her to the elevator, down fourteen floors, through the lobby, into the street, and across to the parking lot. I lifted her into the front seat, got a blanket from the trunk, tucked her up and fastened her seatbeat.
This isn’t a lover or a child or anything, just Aud’s client [Aud was her bodyguard]. I really did not like or care about this silly twit of a young woman until after this scene. I liked seeing her recover and pull herself together and bloom.
The love story central to the story is f/f, let me just say, in case that’s a plus or a minus for you. It is handled with matter-of-fact delicacy, not a trace of that I’m-so-progressive-look-at-my-lesbian-character attitude that I think is pretty common. None of that angst-y gushy hormone-ridden thing that I’m so tired of, either. The sex is not too explicit and does not take over the book, which was good news for me. I loathe books where there are so many explicit, detailed sex scenes that there’s no time for anything to, you know, actually happen, and the plot (what there is of it) kind of vanishes.
There is a lot more time devoted to the central romance than to the violent scenes. I personally loved the slow, smooth development of the romance and did not long in any way for more action through those scenes.
The protagonist is Norwegian and a lot of the development of the romantic relationship is set in Norway and honestly it left me kind of longing to visit Norway, which is a first for me. Though with the temps outside soaring into the 100s, I must say, I’m sure primed to think wistfully about a Norwegian spring.
Setting is so important to me in mysteries — for me, mysteries are all about character and setting. Plot and the actual mystery are much less important. That’s good in this book because I did figure out who the shadowy mysterious bad guy was long before the protagonist did. (I wasn’t trying. It just made literary sense that this would be the bad guy. To be fair, Aud also wasn’t really trying. She didn’t really care until close to the end.)
The writing throughout is just exquisite. It’s a book to read slowly, savoring every line. It makes me think of Francine Prose’s book READING LIKE A WRITER, which is all about how much you can learn from reading slowly and attentively — that’s really a great book which I highly recommend, btw.
One warning: the ending is heartbreaking.
I see there are sequels. I was going to check, because I am definitely not ready to put this one away.
So glad I finally took this book off the TBR pile and opened it up!