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Spy Girls. Joanna Vander Vlugt

Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin

Joanna Vander Vlugt believes that all books should be works of art. She’s got a leg up there, being an artist-illustrator as well as a fine writer. Her sketch of protagonist, motorcycle-riding lawyer, Jade Thyme, blasts off the page carried by the energy of the craft.

Spy Girls, book three in the Jade and Sage Thriller series, is a rollicking and relentless legal thriller that answers the question: Can justice really prevail? The plot begins when millionaire Chief Justice Chimera—a revolting toad who sexually harasses and abuses young women who have the bad fortune to end up in his courtroom AND who is destined to become Canada’s next Prime Minister—is found murdered in his hot tub. Is this poetic justice? The work of a vigilante? The problem is: Sage Thyme’s girlfriend was the last person seen in the hot tub with Chimera, and now she’s missing, off her medication, and a person of interest along with Chimera’s wife, Anya, herself a pastry-chef and Russian ex-double-agent. Complicated? That’s not the half of it.

A high-voltage spy thriller, fuelled by insidious twists, deceptive characters, and high-stakes action, Spy Girls is played out at intimate settings in Victoria, B.C. and the Downtown East Side in Vancouver.

Things I liked about this book: Slick dialogue and intimate details, like a box of gold-plated teeth from a murdered preacher, that show up here and there as clues. The play on names. A chimera is a devilish, mythological creature formed from parts of various animals; for example, a goat and serpent. Fitting? Indeed. Katriona Kalocsay, the snazzy, psychopathic, Hungarian villain who uses pliers to deal out her own brand of justice (teeth and nails. Yikes!) The formatting: the book comes complete with a Table of Contents divided into four parts. Each chapter highlights a cheeky quotation to rev up the reader and catchy chapter heads.

Vancouver Island writer, Joanna Vander Vlugt has a unique writing style and experiments with fresh ways to use basic literary terms. Gems like “my caterpillar confidence” and “an onion of nerves” catch the reader’s eye. She does something interesting with verbs, adding “ing” in surprising places—“Adam marched in, slamming him against the inside wall,” and “Adam shouted, dropping Jan to the floor”—that complements the action.

Though Spy Girls is the third instalment in the series, this novel can be read alone. There are enough mentions of backstory to piece together the intimate web that connects the characters, be they ex-CIA spies and their handlers; fathers and daughters; sisters, lovers, and friends. The first two novels, The Unravelling and Dealer’s Child, were Canadian Book Club Awards finalists. Joanna worked in the prosecutor’s office for thirteen years and spent another ten working in the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, so has plenty of fodder for her novels. She is also a wonderful interviewer and editor of SAM Magazine. Her motorcycle illustrations have been purchased world-wide, and her Woman Empowered motorcycle art series has been featured in on-line art and motorcycle magazines.

Reading Spy Girls is like running a marathon. It will leave you breathless, yet satisfied.

Spy Girls is published by Ozzy Imprint.


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