In "Save Me From Dangerous Men" by S.A. Lelchuk, Nikki Griffin picks up a man in a bar, follows him home and delivers some justice for the abuse of his girlfriend. After breaking his nose and a few ribs, she calls an ambulance before leaving his place and taking off on her red Aprilia motorcycle.
A former first responder in domestic violence cases, Griffin owns a small bookstore, the Brimstone Magpie in Berkeley, and works a side job as a private investigator, relying on typical PI cases like divorce and other private matters. She's also available, through word of mouth, to track and deal with men who harm their female partners. With her arsenal of equipment — including a Beretta subcompact, a shotgun, brass knuckles and a special steel baton — and her fierce fighting skills, she's a formidable force for vengeance. And she doesn't hesitate to use any of these means if the situation and person warrants her involvement. Her ease with violence stems from childhood tragedy and her own rage and need for justice.
One day, she's visited in her store by Gregg Gunn, CEO of Care 4, a tech company that produces child care monitors and sensors for live streaming to parents. He wants her to investigate one of his employees, Karen Li, who he claims is stealing company secrets. It's not Nikki's usual line of work, but the $20,000 he's offering changes her mind, and she accepts the case. Once she begins trailing Karen and later hears her story, she realizes something is very wrong, something with global political implications. From that point, the novel becomes a thriller with Nikki on the run from a variety of hired thugs and dangerous executives.
The novel presents several interlocking storylines that temper some of the violence and enable the reader to better understand Nikki. Throughout her life, books have provided her with needed emotional comfort; they're her essentials. And regular meetings with a therapist provide extra help. She lives without a cellphone and TV, items of little use in her opinion.
Her cozy bookstore is a neighborhood fixture, with its requisite cat, fervent book group and quirky patrons. Her beloved brother struggles with addiction in an Oakland slum, and she cares for him as much as he allows. There's even the beginnings of a relationship with a man she meets in an all-night café after one of her PI jobs. He's a grad student who just finished his dissertation; they share an appreciation for literary authors, a bond that deepens as the novel progresses.
Nikki is a keen observer of social changes in the Bay Area, noting the gentrification of formerly vibrant sections of the city, the displacement of long-time residents and the influx of tech workers who can afford housing no longer affordable to most residents. The resulting wealth gap brings Nikki many clients affected by these changes.
This is a debut novel, with Nikki's future exploits slated to become a series. Check it out if you like stories focusing on an intelligent, complex central character and lots of action.
Madeline Matson is the reference and adult programming librarian at the Missouri River Regional Library.