Nikki Blue: Source of Trouble
By Jack Chaucer (380 pages, $13.99 on Amazon, $11.99 at Hickory Stick Bookshop, $2.99 ebook)
When we last checked in with Nicole “Nikki” Janicek, she had put herself in harm’s way to stop a deranged teenager from carrying out a massacre at her New Hampshire high school. That event — depicted in Jack Chaucer’s previous novel, “Streaks of Blue” — took place four years before “Nikki Blue: Source of Trouble” begins.
The added twist in this sequel is that the action takes place in 2018, when 21-year-old Nikki — recovered physically but not emotionally from the gun wound she received during her act of teen heroism — has moved to Connecticut to make her way in the world with virtually no safety net. That is, she aims to start a career in print journalism. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire!
As the book opens, Nikki is on her first assignment as an intern reporter for “The Brass City Bulletin.” Suffice it to say that things get off to an inauspicious start. Ah, but out of that event, the scoop of the century arrives, hand-delivered to her by a minion from a cult called The Bridge, comprised of disgruntled former Scientologists: Mayor Phil Battaglia is having sex with a prostitute and her young daughter in Bridgeport. Does that sound familiar?
Many other local touches and locations also will sound familiar to anyone who’s lived in the area for more than two weeks. For these alone, “Nikki Blue” is worth reading, largely because they offer Chaucer a chance to make subtle commentary on the scene.
Indeed, Chaucer puts his intimate knowledge of big-city newspaper newsrooms and local settings to good use here — Chaucer is actually John Cullen, the Litchfield County editor for this newspaper. And the characters at the newspaper bear some passing resemblance to staff members. Particularly well drawn is the restless, wisecracking reporter Steve Pearson, who accompanies Nikki on her big scoop to bust the mayor in Bridgeport, and then serves as the voice of conscience for the rest of the novel.
After receiving a surprisingly lucrative offer, Nikki quits her internship at the newspaper to become the director of information (ahem, the public relations flack) for The Bridge Group, which is planning to open a branch here in Waterbury. The irony is not lost on Chaucer: she’s a director of information for a secretive cult that does not issue any information. Not only that, but The Bridge has plans so big that the Earth can’t hold them: it is planning to launch rockets to Mars, with 24 hand-picked colonists (Nikki among them).
While on the surface The Bridge seems creepy and manipulative, the organization’s professed aims are to save humanity from planetary destruction by addressing massive environmental issues head on [–] sort of a combination of Greenpeace and Esalen. They convince a skeptical Nikki that they are not a cult. As one of the leaders tells her, “Religion is more trouble than it’s worth.”
The narrative moves along crisply, incorporating some of the characters from Chaucer’s earlier novel, and introducing some appealing new ones, including Bill Oz, a dueling pianist and middle-aged writer who has lost his mojo … until he meets Nikki. Together, the pair meet the perfect storm of power-mad bosses, family tensions and a hurricane that makes Katrina seem like a shrinking violet.
The cliffhanger ending leaves open the likelihood of, yes, a sequel to the sequel. Nikki is an appealing enough character to pull something like this off.
To contact Chaucer, visit his blog queensarewild.wordpress.com or facebook.com/jackchaucerbooks.