December 23, 2012

Book Review: Mystery, suspense disrupt tiny isle

Chris Ewan's fictional tale is told intelligently and with plenty of action.

By OLINE H. COGDILL, McClatchy Newspapers

Most Americans probably have little idea where the Isle of Man is on the map. For the record, this self-governing British Crown Dependency is located in the Irish Sea, between Great Britain and Ireland, and may be best known to sports fans as the site of the annual TT (Tourist Trophy) motorbike festival, going on since 1907.


"SAFE HOUSE." By Chris Ewan. Minotaur. 448 pages. $25.99.

The Isle of Man also makes for an intriguing backdrop for "Safe House," Chris Ewan's first stand-alone thriller. The book works as an emotional story of a family dealing with a tragedy and the action-packed tale of a young man caught up in an elaborate kidnapping scheme.

"Safe House" also deftly weaves in elements of the locked-room mystery and the small-village mystery, thanks to the size of the Isle of Man, which is only 32 miles long with a population hovering around 80,000.

Heating engineer Rob Hale's latest job takes him to a remote farmhouse where two men are staying along with a chatty, lonely young woman named Lena, who begs Rob to come back for her on his motorcycle. But the couple has just caught the end of the motorcycle races when they have an accident.

Rob remembers the ambulance taking Lena away. But when Rob wakes up in the hospital, there is no record of Lena. The cops who interview Rob maintain he was the only one brought in by an ambulance and no one is living in the cottage he claims to have visited.

Determined to find Lena, Rob teams up with Rebecca Lewis, a private investigator from London. Rob's parents hired Rebecca to investigate the suicide of his sister, Laura, a few weeks ago.

While the link between Laura and Lena seems too coincidental, Ewan keeps his tightly coiled plot full of plausible twists and turns, each more surprising than the one before. Rob and his family are suffocating with grief over Laura's death and what they didn't know about her life. Rob makes a credible hero, capable of showing a strength he didn't know he possessed. But Rebecca emerges as the real star of "Safe House," a strong, independent woman who has more than a few secrets.

Ewan, best known for his "Good Thief's Guide" comic mystery series, shows his affinity for intelligent, involved plots and hard-hitting action in "Safe House."


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