Source: Review copy
Publication: 31 October 2019 from Harvill Secker
The morning after a terrible storm, a woman turns up in a remote Cornish village. 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. This sacrifice cost her everything.
And now she has a chance to start again. But someone is watching her, waiting for her, wondering if she’s really paid the price for what she did.
Steffi Finn just wants to forget her past. Newly released from prison and with a small legacy from her now deceased mother she has bought, sight unseen, a cottage in a small Cornwall village, not far from St Austell. It’s a far cry from her native Sheffield, but that’s what she needs right now – an escape from her past.
Stupidly, she believed her live-in boyfriend when he fed her a pack of lies about where he had been and what he had been doing. Even as he exerted coercive control over her, she still thought they were in love. He turned out to be a killer and she was the one who gave him a false alibi. When, too late, she finally saw the truth and went to the police, her alibi had enabled him to remain free to kill again and Steffi will always have that on her conscience.
The object of scorn and hatred in her home town, especially from those who thought she must have known what her partner was up to, she knows she will get no peace if she goes back there on her release.
So she dyes her hair, changes her name to Charlie Miller and hides away in the small rural Cornish village of Penderrion. She makes some new friends and begins to settle in, but she still feels unsettled. Is it just nerves after all she has been through, or is someone really there, watching her?
Jo Jakeman’s novel is an easy and fast paced read with lots to like about Charlie, even as we are shouting at her for being quite so gullible. The small village gossip network is beautifully evoked as is the general sense of community spirit.
The plot is nicely layered and the characters interesting. A dual timeline enables us to understand Charlie’s backstory and to introduce us to her previous boyfriend, Conor, who now looks after her legal matters and Jakeman introduces different voices and perspectives to the layers she builds.
I liked that this did not feel like a heavy, doom laden thriller and found it to be more entertaining than I initially expected. A couple of plot points did me make me scratch my head a little – was Charlie out on licence and able to just up sticks and disappear without any form of checking in at all – but not enough to over worry about detracting from a decent read.
The theme of whether or not it is ever possible to escape one’s past was well thought through and I failed to guess who was watching Charlie or why. Some nice deflection provides a twisted path to the truth albeit that I was able fairly quickly to work out where the twist lay. Jakeman writes with a light touch and this makes Safe House a satisfying read.
Verdict: Safe House is an entertaining, enjoyable and fast read, but not especially a surprising one.
Jo Jakeman was the winner of the prestigious Friday Night Live competition at York Festival of Writing. Her debut Psychological Thriller was published in the UK as Sticks and Stones by Harvill Secker (Penguin Random House) and as The Exes’ Revenge in the USA and Canada. It was shortlisted for the Best Revenge thriller of the year at the Dead Good Reader Awards.