2007’s Always is the third (and as-of-this-date final) volume in Nicola Griffith’s Aud Torvingen  mystery series. The book opens with Aud far from Atlanta (where she makes her home), visiting Seattle to meet her mother’s new husband. She also plans to deal with an investment that isn’t doing as well as it should be.
Aud is a very straightforward person, brusque to the point that she may seem to have a social disability. She does not hesitate to bring the metaphoric hammer down on her local property manager, Karenna Beauchamps Corning, blaming her for the way Aud’s property is under-performing. As Aud soon discovers, there’s more to the story than one lax property manager: someone is going to a lot of trouble to sabotage the businesses that lease Aud’s property
Currently her main tenant is a film company; the firm is plagued with issues ranging from personal tragedy—the looming death of a producer’s sick child—to a surprising sequence of technical mishaps. Or maybe “surprising” is the wrong word. “Suspicious” is probably better.
The extremely unfortunate villains of this piece clearly had no idea what Aud was like when they targeted her property or they wouldn’t have targeted her at all. Aud is to her inadvertent opponents as a Great White Shark is to a voracious goldfish, The eventual outcome is, as they say over in soc.history.what-if, “over-determined.”
The one-sided contest is rendered even more lopsided when the villains drug the film site’s coffee, Not only is Aud one of the victims , not only does this escalate the campaign from harassment to (arguably) attempted murder, but in the process the schemers destroy the reputation of the film’s caterer, Victoria “Kick” Kuiper.
The woman on whom Aud has a massive, painful crush…
Now Aud is really really angry.
This book has a Heinlein reference! And not just a Heinlein reference but a Lazarus Long reference! Suddenly I wonder what would result if Nicola Griffith decided to try her hand at a Heinlein pastiche. Generally such things go badly but …, generally the people who try it are men of a certain demographic. If she did it, it would be Science! We could see if changing the gender, orientation, and nation of origin of the author makes a difference.
Something else that’s a bit like late Heinlein is a main character who is incredibly privileged. Aud’s mother is politically connected. Not only that, in addition to being a deadly efficient killing machine, Aud is rich enough that a million here or a million there is no big deal. Someone fucking with her land in Seattle is annoying, not financially calamitous.
At some point while reading this book it occurred to me that of the five Griffith novels that I have read to date (Hild is still on the to-read pile), four of them had privileged protagonists. Now, five books is too small a sample to allow of statistically valid conclusions; also three of those four books with privileged protagonists are about Aud. Still, it’s an interesting pattern, though perhaps one that reduces narrative tension. I found Aud’s ability to throw money at problems made her less interesting to me.
Always also has a secondary plot involving a self-defense course Aud taught in Atlanta, a course that had some interesting knock-on effects. The author doesn’t present Aud’s way of doing things as the only way, but the whole section makes for interesting reading. It also features a character who manages to take Aud somewhat by surprise.
One running theme in this book is loss. A child dies off-stage, Aud is still trying to deal with Julia’s death (that’s a spoiler for the first book, by the way, so do not read the previous sentence if you’ve not read The Blue Place.). Someone gets some very bad health news. There is some balance in that at least some of the characters have the chance to start new businesses and relationships.
This might be a rather boring tale of hapless criminals who manage to prod Grendel with a stick. It is not, because the otherwise omni-competent Aud is really out of her depth when it comes to dealing with Kick. Even more so (I suspect) than she herself realizes . This may be a natural ending for the series as far as Griffith is concerned, but I would be interested to see where Kick and Aud go from here.
1: If you have ever had occasion to say Torvingen, how do you say it? Tor Ving En or Torving En or Tor Vin Gen? Comments from native speakers of Scandinavian languages welcome.
2: Aud spends much of the rest of the book coping with the damage the drugs did to her sense of taste. I may have picked up on this because way back in the 1970s I had a bought of ‘flu (or something) that made many of my favourite foods taste like kerosene for a year or so afterward.
3: There’s a really creepy scene where Aud plays the “your lips say not but your body says yes” card. I don’t have much faith that Aud’s ability to understand other people’s unspoken desires is anywhere as good as she thinks it is.