Save Me From Dangerous Men introduces Nikki Griffin, a badass private eye.

Make room for a new series of crime thrillers by Berkeley author S. A. (Saul) Lelchuk. Save Me From Dangerous Men introduces Nikki Griffin, a badass private eye with a special distaste for violent men and a more than superficial resemblance to Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). She owns a bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, which gives Lelchuk the opportunity to include numerous literary references throughout the book. (He holds a B.A. in English from Amherst and teaches creative writing at Dartmouth, where he received a master’s in liberal studies.)

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Lelchuk’s novel has been enthusiastically received by reviewers, including Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, all of which have featured starred reviews. And Lelchuk has sold options for film and television as well as translation rights for multiple countries. So, it seems likely the Nikki Griffin series has legs.

Save Me From Dangerous Men (Nikki Griffin #1) by S. A. Lelchuk (2019) 336 pages ★★★★☆

She’s a badass private eye and drops references to Kierkegaard

Nikki is 33, five foot eight, and wears heavy motorcycle boots. She was raised in Bolinas by “Bohemian California types.” Although she never finished college, she seems to have read a great many of the books in her store and is likely to drop references to Kierkegaard and Henry James in casual conversation. Oh, and for some reason we won’t learn until much later, she’s seeing a therapist in North Berkeley under a court order. Yes, this is a very complicated woman.

A private eye who protects battered women

Nikki’s practice as a private investigator consists of the standard sort of jobs that come to private eyes and a succession of pro bono involvements to separate violent men from the women they batter. To say Nikki is tough is a gross understatement. And as a result she’s very . . . persuasive. She tends to inflict the same injuries on the men that they’ve visited upon their wives or girlfriends.

A new client, a new course

But an unexpected visit from Gregg Gunn sets Nikki off on a new course. Gunn is the CEO of a fast-growing high tech Silicon Valley company. He pays her an outsized amount of money to follow one of his employees he suspects of stealing proprietary information. Clearly, that information is extremely valuable, as Gunn’s company is engaged in trendsetting work on artificial intelligence. But Nikki will only discover just how valuable it is as she encounters stiff resistance to her investigation.

She has “this other side—this darker side.”

Early in the novel, Nikki meets a witty Cal graduate student. The attraction is mutual, and they will attempt to build a relationship. But that isn’t easy with Nikki. As the man tells her later, “‘I guess I just don’t get it. I mean, you know so much about books, food, everything; you’re beautiful and funny and charming; we have this great connection; but you have this other side—this darker side. A scary side. The violence, these situations you keep getting into that I don’t even know about—I honestly don’t feel like I know who you actually are.'” Nor, for a long time, do we.

“An outstanding debut novel”

The action in Save Me From Dangerous Men unfolds in short chapters that alternate with flashbacks to Nikki’s complex and troubled past. The result is that we only come to understand her reasonably well by the time the action reaches a climax. It’s no wonder that bestselling authors Lee Child and Douglas Preston have referred to the novel as “action packed,” “razor sharp,” and “an outstanding debut novel.” We can look forward to more of the adventures of this captivating badass private eye.

This is one of the Good books by Berkeley writers.

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