THE TROIKA DOLLS is the first novel from new Australian Writer Miranda Darling, and it's a really really interesting debut for a number of reasons.
Stevie Duveen is (according to the blurb) "A new kind of heroine for a new kind of world". To be honest I'm not sure I know what that means - but I do agree that Stevie's a very good sort of a heroine. Emotionally and physically fragile, tiny, gorgeous, brilliant, gifted in seven languages and all sorts of combat, Stevie is a strategic analyst working for an organisation that guards, protects and assesses threats to all sorts of clients - from Hollywood celebrities through to political representatives all over the world. Needless to say there's quite a bit of potential for Stevie to be just that bit annoying. Personally I find constant references to female characters "looks" annoying, to say the least, but in THE TROIKA DOLLS, Darling manages to pull off an excellent balancing act. Whilst you're left in very little doubt as to Stevie's physical assets, you're also left in no doubt as to her frailties as well. And even that can be more than a bit annoying - but Stevie's longing for the man who broke her heart is used cleverly. Her physical beauty is balanced against her physical prowess, her mental anguish at the break-up of her relationship balanced against her mental acuity.
THE TROIKA DOLLS sees Stevie defy her much admired boss and ignore the chance for a period of rest and recuperation, heading instead for Russia to help Henning, old friend only, as far as she's concerned anyway. She's going to help assess the level of security risk to the head of the Russian Central Bank, but, Valery Kozkov, politician, bank regulator and fearless crusader against corruption, and friend of Henning's has a bigger problem - his teenage daughter has disappeared.
As is the case with all thrillers, there are aspects of this plot that need a little unquestioning acceptance. Fortunately you're kept from wondering too hard as the pace of the book charges along, keeping you focused on the present, rather than peaking back at the past. Stevie moves through the landscape of Russia, London and Zurich with great aplomb, and some nice touches of humour, as well as pathos as her own back story is fleshed out. Henning is a wonderful side-kick to Stevie, solid and dependable and present, balancing (there's that word again!) Stevie's slightly more wispy persona. This isn't just a two person show though, there is a great cast of supporting characters including Stevie's boss, colleagues and the Russian's - villains and victims.
Final events in THE TROIKA DOLLS take place in a remote health-spa in rural Switzerland, nicely isolated, beautifully luxurious, oddly an apt setting for a bit of Russian gangster lurking and the odd gun-battle. Sure there are a few odd elements to the plot when you sit down and think about it hard, but I really liked the idea that Stevie and Henning were equals in so much of the battle, that Stevie might have been beautiful, and fragile and all the rest of it, but she's also resourceful, tough and capable. A touch of romance didn't go astray either and I finished the book hoping that Miranda Darling is already writing the next one in the series. The thriller world needs more female characters like Stevie Duveen.