This is the first in the Charlie Fox mystery series. The first books in the series are out of print and difficult to get but they are being reprinted this year.

Charlie Fox is a women’s self-defense instructor in Lancaster. One of her friends owns a women’s shelter and Charlie helps out there, as well. She used to be in the British Army but was “asked to leave” after a traumatic experience which also drove a wedge between her upper-middle class parents and herself. They aren’t really on speaking terms anymore. She lives in a former gym and drives a motorcycle instead of a car. She’s used to relying only on herself and doesn’t let her guard down easily.

Charlie doesn’t usually go to clubs but when her good friend Clare wants to go to newly opened New Adelphi Club, she invites Charlie to go with her. At the club, a woman attacks Clare and Charlie is forced to fight her off. The club’s handsome owner is impressed enough to offer Charlie a part-time job in the club’s all male security staff and Charlie accepts even tough many of the security guys aren’t thrilled about it. However, the next day the woman who attacked Clare is found brutally raped and murdered. Someone is also lurking near the women’s shelter and something fishy is going on at the club.

The book starts slowly introducing us to Charlie and her friends. The pace doesn’t really pick up until near the end.

Right at the start Sharp shows us effectively how ordinary Charlie looks when compared to her beautiful friend Clare which is a great because most heroines tend to be stunningly beautiful themselves. Charlie is struggling with her past; even though she has managed to get a new life she still thinks about the event and it has changed her attitude towards other people. She doesn’t trust anyone and is wary all the time.

The treatment of violence is very realistic. Charlie doesn’t recover quickly from fights but has painful bruises for days. She’s scared during fights and after them, and when she sees dead bodies. Often, heroes and heroines aren’t fazed by such things at all. Some of the fight scenes are pretty gory. She also worries about not hurting other people physically, even when she’s fighting them which is very admirable although not really practical, as she muses later.

I also thought that the treatment of motorcycles was realistic, too, with such details as there’s not much room for groceries, so Charlie has to plan carefully what she’s going to buy.

As you might expect in a book where a women’s shelter is one of the places where the main character goes frequently, the book covers especially violence against women. The battered wives and girlfriends are seen only briefly, though, and they are part of the matter-of-fact everyday life. Unfortunately, I noticed a victim blaming attitude. When talking about the first murdered girl, Charlie says that “she was too stupid to take a taxi”. So, apparently it’s her fault, then? What’s next? Have you considered not being a woman, so you aren’t such a tempting target? Unfortunately, the attitude of the police in the book isn’t much better.

I have to say that I was pretty surprised by the cover which has a blurry woman’s face when they could have gotten much prettier and more appropriate image for it. Such as a woman on a motorcycle or leaning against a motorcycle or something. Now it’s very static and unappealing at least to me.