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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Safe House, by Chris Ewan (hardcover, $25.99)

[I wrote this review a long time ago, but because of the upheaval at Murder by the Book, I completely forgot about posting it at the appropriate time, i.e., near its release date in December 2012. It's always satisfying when someone I like writes a book I like, which makes me doubly sorry that I didn't post this in a more timely fashion. -- Barbara]

Author Chris Ewan lives on the Isle of Man, and he has made his hometown a big player in this story of intrigue and double-dealings. It's an island off the coast of Great Britain, with a population of about 80,000 and its own laws and culture.

Rob Hale fixes heating problems by trade and races motorcycles by talent and inclination. (In real life, the Isle of Man hosts one of the world's most famous motorcycle races, the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT).) One day Rob is called to a remote house on the island to fix a broken boiler. He meets Lena, a strange, beautiful woman, who lives in the house with two gruff-looking men. She tells him she wants to go for a ride on his motorcycle, but she can't tell the two men. Is she a prisoner? a conspirator? a criminal? The secret motorcycle ride ends in an accident and Lena's disappearance. Rob begins a hunt with Rebecca, the private investigator his mother hired to find out what happened to Rob's dead sister, Laura, that pits him against legal and criminal forces, both of whom want Rob's hide.

It's a big book (488 pages) because it's actually two stories in one. One follows Rob's course in the first-person, the other is a third-person narration of what happens to Lena. Ewan could have done a tighter book with minimal information on Lena, but Lena's convoluted story is full of pluck and ingenuity. Why would we want to miss that?

Despite the scenes of brutality (not too graphic, by today's standards), this book has a sweetness to it, in the characters of Rob Hale and his loving, normal family, in the descriptions of the Isle of Man. Ewan does a good job prolonging the suspense of who Lena is, what Rebecca's role really is, and how Rob's dead sister, Laura, is involved. It's sometimes a "who's the tougher chick" contest between Rebecca and Lena, who have a vague interchangeability, as they make their way through increasingly outrageous situations. The winner, however, is the reader.

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