2002’s Stay picks up some months after events at the end of The Blue Place. Still haunted by the memories of her dead lover Julia, Aud Torvingen has no interest in helping her friend Dornan track down his missing fiancée. Somehow, finding out what happened to Tammy Foster is exactly what Aud finds herself doing.
Finding Tammy turns out to be the easy part. Retrieving her from Geordie Karp, the manipulative sociopath who has bullied and threatened Tammy into terrified submission, isn’t that much harder, if only because at this point the broken Tammy cannot resist anyone. That leaves one last bit of business: retrieving a humiliating sex tape of Tammy that Karp has in his possession. This should be easy enough for someone of Aud’s competence.
Aud is still traumatized by the mistakes she made in The Blue Place and she cannot control her impulses as a professional should. Karp doesn’t just prey on adult women; he has gone to considerable trouble to acquire a Mexican girl, Luz, to be raised as his perfectly submissive wife. Aud’s pointed response to Karp’s Hikaru Genji gambit leaves Karp battered, brain-dead, and dying in New York. But Aud’s attempt to help Luz puts Luz in further danger. The girl has no official standing in the US and without Karp to conceal her from officialdom, faces imminent deportation.
Or at least Luz would be facing deportation if it were not for the fact Karp wasn’t the one who originally procured and sold Luz. Karp may be out of the game but the company that brought Luz to the US is still out there, fully operational, and determined to recover the money they’ve invested in Luz.
I called The Blue Place competence porn, In this book, Aud again demonstrates a considerable range of skills — but here the focus is less on competence and more on healing, something everyone (except maybe Karp) ends up having to do. In the first book Aud believed in her own competence; in Stay, she’s aware that she makes mistakes, one of which got Julia killed. That awareness affects her choices less positively than one might hope; the plot is pushed along by Aud’s spectacularly poor impulse control and questionable judgment1.
In one sense, one can look at this as Aud grabbing a chance at a do-over. She can make up for failing to save Julia by saving Luz. Another way to look at it is that Aud is using other people’s problems for some personal therapy2. Unfortunately, her methods are less than optimal, although at least in this book her body count is a bit lower than in The Blue Place. In particular, I wonder how well Aud’s choice of guardians for Luz will play out, given the track record of the people Aud chooses and how well her method of deterring the Biggest Bad3 will work once her opponents think about the situation for a while.
While I am not all that keen on Aud, who doesn’t seem all that different from the violence-prone protagonists rampaging through other thriller and mystery series, Griffith’s writing is as solid as ever. Despite her issues, Aud remains, if not exactly likable, at least interesting.
The structure of the first two books seems to demand a third volume in which Aud finally comes to terms with her various issues. I know that there is a third volume, but have not read it — yet. I will be interested to see if what I hope for is what I actually get.
1: For example, to let the bad guy get the drop on her might be misfortune but to let two of them get the drop on her simultaneously is carelessness. If events at one point were to play out a little differently, Aud would end up taking a dirt nap down in Arkansas.
2: Which is of course a grand and revered tradition in the mystery genre.
3: She knows who they are while they have no idea who Aud is. Except Aud is distinctive-looking and not exactly an obscure person and there are other detectives available for hire.