You don’t have to be a spy, just a woman trying to get by, to find peril aplenty in Conway’s debut.
Frederick’s of Hollywood provides Web site designer Nicola Swain’s only serious vices. Her silk teddies and tap pants help bolster her self-esteem when her loutish boss Guy patronizes her or her landlord Robert tries to evict her so that he can rent her astonishingly cheap San Francisco apartment to his sister. She even resists the flirtatious suggestion of the stranger she sees every day at lunch at the West Portal Café, the man she dubs “Chorizo” after the pizza he always orders, to take the afternoon off and “do something foolish.” Which is a good thing, since the foolishness he has in mind involves slipping Nicola two little pills—it never takes more than two—and telling her Turkish folk tales as she slips into the hereafter. Instead, Nicola gets kidnapped outside her cardio-kickboxing class by Dave and Davette, two high-school computer geeks who take her to an abandoned warehouse with orders to wait just after midnight before forcing her to withdraw her daily maximum from the nearest ATM. Naturally, the brains behind the caper is her ex-husband Scooter, who’s robbing her to pay off his gambling debts. So Nicola convinces the D’s to take her to Scooter with a counter-offer: She’ll lend him the money to clear his debt if he lets her deal with his creditors herself. That’s how she meets Lou, the restaurant-hopping loan shark/food critic who just might be able to solve her housing crisis by proving that Robert has no sister. Wrong. Robert’s sister pops up in the middle of Nicola’s and Lou’s first tête-à-tête to announce that he’s been murdered, signaling a threat far more deadly than rent-gouging.
Short-story writer Conway’s jump to novel length is as lean and sexy as her cardio-kickboxing heroine.