Nikki Griffin isn’t your typical private investigator. In her office above her bookstore’s shelves and stacks, where she luxuriates in books and the comfort they provide, she also tracks certain men. Dangerous men. Men who have hurt the women they claim to love. And Nikki likes to teach those men a lesson, to teach them what it feels like to be hurt and helpless, so she can be sure that their victims are safe from them forever.
When a regular PI job tailing Karen, a tech company’s disgruntled employee who might be selling secrets, turns ugly and Karen’s life is threatened, Nikki has to break cover and intervene. Karen tells Nikki that there are people after her. Dangerous men. She says she’ll tell Nikki what’s really going on. But then something goes wrong, and suddenly Nikki is no longer just solving a case—she’s trying hard to stay alive.
Part Lisbeth Salander, part Jack Reacher, part Jessica Jones, Nikki Griffin is a kick-ass character who readers will root for as she seeks to right the world’s wrongs. S. A. Lelchuk’s SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN marks the beginning of a gripping new series and the launch of a fabulous new character.
The Big Thrill caught up to S. A. Lelchuk to discuss his debut novel, SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Most of all, I hope readers will enjoy Nikki Griffin. I prefer to avoid speculating on reader takeaways, as I do feel that any given reader might take different things away from any book—one of the pleasures of writing and reading fiction is that you never know exactly how someone might react to a story or character, whether based simply on taste, or even experiences within their own lives. That said, the larger issues that Nikki takes on in this book are very real, and worthy of thought, attention, and much more. Nikki is also a bookseller, and I had a lot of fun incorporating different writers and books into my own novel. If a reader picks up one of these wonderful works as a result of reading SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN, so much the better!
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
Nikki is a character who I literally dreamed up; I woke up one morning at 3:30 a.m. thinking about a few sentences and diffuse images, and when I went back to sleep three hours later I had a name, a character, and several rough scenes. That day I happened to be starting a cross-country drive west, from New Hampshire to California, and long, isolated hours in a car capped by brief stints with my laptop turned out to be a fairly ideal place to plot a book. The first scene of SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN was written in an Applebee’s on Peach Street in Erie, Pennsylvania, and then continued through the Great Lakes region, the North Dakota Badlands, Wyoming, Nevada, et cetera. By the time I reached California two weeks later, I had much of the book—plot, characters, scenes—in my mind, and this made the actual writing far more comfortable. If given my choice, I would happily embark on a long solo car trip alone before every book.
Also, the whole legal disclaimer in novels about no character being based on a real person? There is a certain gray cat featured in the book, who, I’ll admit, exists in blatant disregard of that rule.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
Far too many to name in this short space. Throughout my life I have rarely felt more comfortable than when in a library or bookstore, and reading, teaching, writing, and thinking about books occupies the bulk of my day-to-day life.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
Writing in suspense/mystery is such a challenge, and such a pleasure. On the one hand, there are certain general road signs that can, and should, be followed in terms of overall direction. On the other hand, the road is so well-trodden with illustrious footprints that it becomes intellectually exciting to think where, exactly, one can veer off in order to carve out their own small space. As someone who grew up reading hard-boiled detective fiction, I hope that Nikki Griffin is in some ways a throwback to this age—she has a distaste for much technology, doesn’t waste words or bullets, and has a morality that, while it could never be accused of being mainstream, is identifiable and very much present nonetheless. Nikki is, obviously, also a female detective, and as such falls into a rich and admirable tradition. In a genre historically dominated by male characters (I say this without at all ignoring the hundreds of incredible female protagonists in suspense/thriller fiction, many of whom have inspired me), it was great fun to be able to create situations and scenes where Nikki, with her unique mindset and abilities, becomes the only one capable of overcoming the challenges that confront her and the people she cares about.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
Although I’ve lived in California for a number of years, writing SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN brought a new appreciation for the Bay Area and what it can offer to a book. From the industrial hum of the Oakland Port to quiet coastal towns, from the quirky indie bookstore scene of Berkeley to the bland polish of Silicon Valley, the Bay Area is rich with wonderful settings. As I wrote this book, I was constantly thinking of how one of suspense fiction’s great joys is how it can turn an expected setting on its head: a romantic seaside getaway becomes shadowy and menacing, a mundane coffee shop or office park is suddenly laden with intrigue and suspicion, et cetera. When living day to day in the Bay Area, one might too easily think of only traffic and housing prices, and writing this novel allowed me to step back and view this wonderful part of California for its geography, history, and character.
S. A. Lelchuk holds a B.A. in English from Amherst College and a M.A. from Dartmouth College, where he is a visiting lecturer in creative writing. His debut novel, SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN, will be published by Flatiron Books / Macmillan in March 2019 and is the start of a series featuring bookseller and private investigator Nikki Griffin. He divides his time between California and New Hampshire.
S. A. Lelchuk is a member of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and International Thriller Writers (ITW) and he is represented by the LGR Literary Agency.
To learn more, please visit his website.