If you are looking for a new literary heroine who does not fit any of the stereotypical P.I. molds, and breaks a couple of them while she is at it, S.A. Lelchuk’s “Save Me From Dangerous Men” ( Flatiron Books, 326 pp. ★★★1/2 out of four) should be at the top of your reading list.
Nikki Griffin owns a used bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkley. Her regular customers are as colorful and eclectic as the titles on her shelves. Whenever a stray customer comes in looking for just the right book, she always has the perfect recommendations.
Her store’s successful book club is comprised of her regular customers as well as a whole other set of strays: Mixed in among the group are women who have nowhere else to turn when the men in their lives turn violent. Nikki has different “recommendations” in mind for these dangerous men, one that could be interpreted as threats. Nikki is both a bibliophile and a badass.
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Nikki, 33, also works as a private investigator, hired by clients who want cheating spouses tailed. Nikki is an unconventional P.I. and does not fit neatly into any of the tropes. She does not own a cell phone and drives a not-so-subtle red Aprilia motorcycle.
She may not be as tech-savvy as a Lisbeth Salander, but she is just as ruthless when it comes to getting the truth. She may not be as low key as a Kinsey Millhone, but she is just as solid in the basics of tailing and detective work. And while she will never be considered as affable as Precious Ramotswe, she is just as protective of her clients. She more than gets the job done.
During an average day at the bookstore, a Silicon Valley CEO, Greg Gunn, approaches Nikki with a case: to follow one of his employees, Karen Li, who is suspected of selling company secrets. Pretty cut and dry. Or so it seems.
When Nikki witnesses Li being threatened by a pair of men, her worlds collide. Instead of staying on the case, she acts to save this woman from dangerous men. As a result, she herself becomes a target in a conspiracy that she has yet to get a handle on.
Lelchuk pens a suspenseful page-turner. Perhaps with an eye on an eventual series, the author makes Nikki and her backstory the book’s focus; the plot, at times, seems secondary. But that is not to say the plot is second rate.
Rather, it is original and inspired. The who-done-it and why are meticulously built, with breadcrumbs carefully laid out to give the reader an a-ha moment not a moment too soon.
Nikki Griffin is anything but boring but totally believable. Even the fact that she does not own a cell phone makes sense once you get to know her. Throw in the book’s eclectic cast of supporting characters – a possible love interest, a troubled brother and a skeptical therapist – and Lelchuk has set the stage for both a heroine and a world to which we will gladly return.