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Safe House by Chris Ewan
Cover Artist: Photo: Jim Whiteside
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250012562
Date: 11 December 2012 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Rob Hale is a plumber living on the Isle of Man, a tiny island located between Great Britain and Ireland; his hobby is racing motorbikes. At an isolated cabin on Arrasey Plantation, he fixes a water boiler; later, he sneaks Lena, a beautiful blonde, out of the cabin for a joyride. When Rob crashes his motorbike, he awakes to learn that Lena has disappeared. The police say she is a product of his distraught imagination; apparently Rob hasn't psychologically recovered from the suicide death of his sister, Laura Hale, another beautiful blonde. When a strong-willed, feisty detective, Rebecca Lewis, helps Rob search for Lena, murderous, muscle-bound thugs begin terrorizing Rob and his family.

First, let me say that I love novels (and films) where the hero meets the woman of his dreams. Suddenly, she disappears and everyone around him insists she never existed. This is a creepy, Twilight-Zone beginning for any novel (or film). It is fertile ground for some imaginative plotting. I've read and seen all the explanations; the hero is being manipulated and controlled by everything from drugs to criminals to aliens. In Chris Ewan's excellent cloak-and-dagger thriller, Safe House, the explanation for Lena's disappearance is very plausible; though the plot may not have supernatural elements, it does have an incredible amount of twists and turns. Several of the characters are leading deceptive lives. Betrayal abounds. There are some truly righteous characters, such as our resident hero, Rob Hale, and some truly evil characters, such as a no-neck, muscular bodyguard who likes to swing a baseball bat at the face of a helpless woman.

One of the major ingredients for a highly successful novel is the setting. Safe House has a unique one: the Isle of Man. I'd heard of it but I'd never actually read a story that was set there. Isle of Man is a tiny island where motorbike racing is popular. Ewan gives a brief description of it in his "A Note on the Isle of Man", which appears at the beginning of the novel.

Looking at the Isle of Man on a map, one can see that it is strategically located in the Irish Sea dead center between Great Britain, Ireland and Scotland. With its numerous seaside villages and precipitous cliffs, it must be a quaint tourist attraction for citizens of these three countries who crave a weekend escape without having to travel a great distance. Isle of Man reminds me of Tangier Island, a picturesque fishing community, which is located in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. However, when I see the Isle of Man, I also think of its potential for having drug smuggling routes. Isle of Man is similar to the small country of Belize, located on the East Coast of Central America; a major tourist attraction, Belize provides drug smuggling routes between its neighboring countries of Mexico and Guatemala.

The characterization in Safe House is excellent. Our tall, ruggedly handsome hero, Rob Hale, can fix anything around the house. (He's good with his hands.) Rob has a golden retriever, Rocky, who will lick you to death; he is close to his grandfather and to his parents. They all live at a nursing home which is owned and operated by his parents; Rob stays in an apartment over the garage. The heroine, Rebecca Lewis, is beautiful, intelligent and mysterious. She carries a weapon and is very tech savvy. (She's also good with her hands.) Nevertheless, she becomes a damsel in distress. Then there are the evil thugs; they consist mostly of bodybuilders with the requisite tattoos and piercings in the nose and God only knows where else. They're like pit bulls with bad attitudes. Some of the violence they inflicted was appalling and tortuous, making this novel unsuitable for children and those who are squeamish.

The superb writing style is fast-paced. Most of the chapters ended with cliff hangers. The hero narrates many of the alternating chapters, telling the story firsthand from his point of view. This allows the reader to view events from different perspectives. The reader also learns certain truths before the hero does. Short sentences and sentence fragments throughout the narrative descriptions and dialogue also make for a faster pacing.

Chris Ewan's Safe House is highly recommended for fans of mystery who crave unique settings, likeable heroes, pretty girls, ruthless thugs, and plenty of nail-biting intrigue. Ewan is also the author of the highly successful Good Thief's Guide novels involving intrepid thief Charlie Howard (The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris, The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas, The Good Thief's Guide to Venice and the soon-to-be-released The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin). After reading Safe House, I am compelled to read The Good Thief's Guide series as well, if only to learn if Charlie Howard and Rob Hale share similar characteristics.

Fans of Safe House may want to read David Rosenfelt's On Borrowed Time. A freelance journalist, Richard Kilmer, is engaged to marry his dream girl, Jennifer Ryan. While they are driving to her hometown of Ardmore, New York, he crashes his car during some freakish weather. Upon awakening, he learns that Jennifer has disappeared. Indeed, she may have been a dream because none of his friends remember meeting her.

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