At the end of each of the Aud Torvingen novels I'm left sort of wrestling with how to rate and being unsure. The thing is, Griffith's prose is absolutely lovely. Her novels have a real sense of place, she brings you along into the sights and smells and sounds of a locale, the color of the light and the way the traffic moves and how it feels
to be there. Characters that she cares about are sharp, clear, economically drawn with just the right collection of telling details, like a pen and ink sketch that captures the person better than a photograph. Gorgeous.
Also, "strong female characters," is becoming a sort of tired pro forma check list that books have to meet, but ... well there's no life to it, its a limp french fry of a given. But not here. When Griffith writes strong female characters they aren't cartoon girls who kick ass in a perky fashion, they are ferociously real people with needs and confusions and wisdom and foolishness and they don't whine, and they don't blame other people for their problems, and it hurts when they fall down, and its hard work to get up again.
And then. And then you'll have a character that for whatever reason the author isn't interested in, and that character is just a place holder. Which is just glaringly odd stood up against all the other fiercely real people milling about.
But most of all, the books fall down on plot. I'm not even sure I mean that they fall down, because I sort of weirdly like the plots. But they are rambling affairs, like a kid wandering around picking things up and putting them down again. We'll get pages and pages of fascination with the particular mechanics of some industry - how movie stunts are staged, or what Norwegians eat for lunch. And then a major plot development will get two paragraphs.
The weird thing is, I kind of fall in love with the idiosyncratic weirdness of it. One thing these books are not are paint by numbers slick genre fiction that ticks off all the boxes - murder on page three, dectective introduced page four, etc. etc. They are very determinedly their own weird little birds. And I kind of like that!
Fact remains, this is a novel in a genre that places a premium on plotting and pacing, and the plotting and pacing here are just kinda goofy. Endearing as I find that, I think its still a flaw.
So once again I am left wrestling. I kind of want to give this book three stars and five stars simultaneously. But I don't want to give it four. Because where it is good its better than four, and where it doesn't work its worse. And I'm not willing to put it in a blender.
One thing is for sure. I am going to continue to read Nicola Griffith.