Created by S.A. Lelchuk
So now we have NIKKI GRIFFIN, cast by some as the perfect vigilante hero for the #metoo age. Save Me from Dangerous Men, her powerful debut, is a ballsy mashup of agitprop and vengeance porn; a cautionary tale (or thrill read) full of sadistic, abusive men (Boo! Hiss!) and a violent, unbalanced avenger who often makes Lisbeth (slyly name-checked several times) look like a pillar of mental stability (Hip-Hip-Hooray?).
“I wanted to explore what is justified, and where does that become too much?” the author explained in 2019 to Publishers Weekly. “It’s vigilante work, but not with a bloodthirsty morality. She wants a proportional response.”
“I’m not self-destructive,” Nikki, an attractive young woman who owns a Berkeley bookstore, and runs a one-woman private detective agency from the second floor, says in her defense. “I’m not some psycho. There are people in this world who need help.”
The problem? Nikki’s proclamation of sanity is made to her therapist. Her court-ordered therapist. Seems Nikki got a little too hands-on “helping” someone.
I’m not denying the visceral appeal of bad guys getting what’s coming (Hey! I still read Batman!), but there’s something unnerving about someone not wearing a mask or a cape who seems to enjoy her “work” so much, and pursues it with such self-righteous zeal. As these things go, she’s a complex and intriguing character–a bookworm who owns a bookstore in Berkeley, and runs here justice-for-hire biz out of an upstairs office.
What makes it more troubling is that I kinda loved Save Me from Dangerous Men, her 2019 debut. In it, Nikki is hired by a software company big shot to follow an employee, Karen Li, whom he suspects of selling company secrets. Soon enough, though, Nikki’s caught up in a swirl of violence and betrayal, and men far more dangerous and skilled than the loser boyfriends and pathetic husbands she’s usually whaling on. Meanwhile, the framing sequence of Nikki’s visits to her therapist is tremendously effective, giving context to (and maybe even splashing a little sympathy on) Nikki’s problems. And whaddya know? In 2021, she returned in a sequel, One Got Away.
- Turns out S.A. Lelchuk is a guy? Does it matter? Should it matter? Will there be an outcry of “misappropriation of voice” if it turns out he is a dude?
(Update: he is a dude)
- “Private detective novels naturally tilt toward the untrustworthiness of most characters, but Lelchuk delights in showing just how shady everyone turns out to be. This is good business for Nikki Griffin, but I do wonder about the added emotional cost, and if there will be further consequences in subsequent books.”
— Sarah Weinman (April 2021, The New York Times Book Review)
- Save Me from Dangerous Men (2019) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- One Got Away (2021) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!