Not everyone deserves a second chance…
The morning after a terrible story, a woman turns up in a remote Cornish village. She has bought the crumbling cottage that has lain empty for over a decade, and she’s going to make it her home. She calls herself Charlie, but it’s a name she’s only had for a few days. She keeps herself to herself, reluctant to integrate with the locals.
Because Charlie has a secret.
Charlie was in prison for providing a false alibi for a murderer. But Lee Fisher wasn’t a murderer to her; he was the man she loved. Convinced of his innocence, Charlie said she was with him the night a young woman was killed.
That lie cost her everything.
And now she has a chance to start again. But someone is watching her, waiting for her, wondering if she has really paid the price for what she did…
I’ve been knee-deep in reading for my PhD recently. Lots of heavy theoretical stuff, a smattering of history, and a small bucket load of obscure eighteenth-century poetry. All very interesting (well, if you’re me anyway…) but not exactly page-turning stuff. So it was with relief that I settled down over the weekend to DEVOUR Jo Jakeman’s Safe House, a pacy and energetic psychological thriller that puts a refreshingly feminist twist on the genre.
Safe House tells the story of Charlie, a woman seeking a fresh start on the Cornish coast. Except Charlie wasn’t always Charlie. Until recently she had a different name and a different life. A life in which she made a terrible mistake – one that might just come back to haunt her.
The narrative of Safe House moves over two timelines. One is set in the present day, in Cornwall, and follows Charlie as she attempts to rebuild her life. The other finds Charlie in prison and flits back to recall the terrible events that led her there. Interspersed throughout the narrative are also short sections told from the perspective of other people close to Charlie – and those who mean her harm.
Despite these multiple timelines and perspectives however, Jakeman does an excellent job of keeping all her threads together and forming a coherent and compelling narrative. I never felt as if I lost who was who, despite a couple of characters (including Charlie herself) having dual identities and secrets to hide.
Jakeman also manages to keep all the cards of her twist close to her chest until the moment of the big reveal – I genuinely didn’t guess who was behind the sinister attempts to wreck Charlie’s new life or their motive behind it. When it was all revealed, I send a mental congratulations to Jo for both keeping me on my toes and weaving everything together into a plausible yet satisfying conclusion!
And that feminist twist I mentioned? Well, unlike some books in the genre, Charlie is no wallflower – and no stereotype.
Without giving away any spoilers, Safe House confronts the issues of coercive control and psychological domestic violence head-on and the book does an excellent job of shedding light on the challenges that come with investigating such a crime, as well its aftermath on victims and those who surround them. The novel also examines how women who become victims of such a crime – or who are coerced into committing or aiding crime as a result of a relationship – are treated within the media, and how they are perceived by the general public.
What really impressed me though was how Charlie, despite everything that happens to her, retains a determination to survive and to live. Whilst she hugely regrets her own part in the terrible events that led her to move to Cornwall, it is always made clear who the real villain is. Equally, Charlie hasn’t just languished as a result of her experience. She’s learnt new skills, received counselling, gained qualifications. In short, she starts her new life determined not to be defined by the secret she has to hide – even whilst she is afraid that it might come back to haunt her.
It’s a refreshing perspective in a genre that, all too often, depicts female characters as either victims or collaborators without recognising that sometimes it’s possible to be both – and a fully-rounded human being in the process.
Safe House is a gripping, tense, page-turning thriller that is sure to delight fans of Claire Mackintosh or Louise Candlish. As I said at the beginning of this review, I devoured it in a weekend, gripped until the very last page!
My thanks go to Mia Quibell-Smith from Penguin Random House for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
As an extra bonus, the ebook of Safe House is only 99p on Amazon until the end of November 2019!