Newest Review: ... but as much as anything she is making the move to take her away from memories, to try to further her relationship with her young dau... more
A Reminder Of Nicci French At 'Her' Peak
The Safe House - Nicci French
Member Name: missrarr
The Safe House - Nicci French
Date: 22/10/12, updated on 22/10/12 (70 review reads)
Advantages: A reminder of why I used to love the work of Nicci French
Disadvantages: Terse, dark prose might not suit everyone, although I love it
If there's one thing I can do when I'm ill, it's tank my way through a lot of reading material. Daytime TV is a crime against intelligent society and sadly there's only so much one can filter through the treasures of On Demand TV through Virgin, so more often than not I get through being under the weather by going through a hefty heap of books.
So it was that yesterday, in one sitting, I went through the entity of The Safe House, admittedly not the heftiest tome in the back catalogue of husband-and-wife writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French (aka Nicci French as you are more likely than not already aware), but a satisfying and engrossing read nonetheless. I have to say that after posting a rather derogatory review of another of their efforts not too long along, I was pleased that my 10p charity shop investment of recent weeks provided me with a far more enjoyable reading experience and, for me, harked back to when this writing team were at the height of their powers.
***THE SAFE HOUSE - BASICS***
First published in 1998, back in the years when Nicci French was turning out highly engrossing reads such as Beneath The Skin, The Safe House was republished in 2008. This run accounted for my copy, a slim paperback with a muted photo of three chess pieces, two white ominously manoeuvred against one black. Mine was a "not for resale" (naughty naughty, but seriously, thank you to whoever donated this to charity, and I got more than my 10p-worth of enjoyment from reading something that you had tired of).
It can be bought for £5.99 new through Amazon, and is available for Kindle, in large print, hardback and audio tape.
400 pages (mine is a smaller-print version at 246)
At the same time that a pharmaceutical millionaire and his wife are brutally murdered in their home, a crime which almost also claims the life of their teenage daughter, post-traumatic stress expert Dr. Sam Laschen is moving from London to rural Essex. A new challenge awaits her professionally but as much as anything she is making the move to take her away from memories, to try to further her relationship with her young daughter Elsie, and to establish one way or the other the future of her current relationship.
These two unconnected plotlines converge when the recovering daughter of the victims, Fiona, needs somewhere to recuperate and overcome the trauma of her harrowing near-death experience, not only somewhere safe for her to come to terms with her experience but also somewhere safe for her while the investigation into the perpetrators of the crime is conducted. Somewhere neutral, with someone who can offer the right mix of concern, support, time, space and understanding as her recovery constructs itself.
With her lover already feeling at arm's length from Sam and her daughter, his visits swinging between the satisfying and enjoyable and the deeply frustrating and fraught, and her relationship with Elsie still at times uneven, Sam is reluctant to take in Fiona, before finding herself persuaded for reasons she doesn't seem to fully understand herself. With the almost mute, lost slip of a girl who is delivered to her home comes Dr Michael Daley, her GP, various police officers and investigators, and via Daley, an initial introduction to "higher" rural society amongst the local medical crowd and, as she finds herself drawn into Fiona's case against her best judgement, he also provides the means to start looking further into the situation.
However, as Fiona starts to rebuild her shattered life and emotions and come to terms with what has happened to her and as Sam herself tries to deal with the changes and imbalances in her own life as well as those that came with taking in this vulnerable creature, is unaware that she has invited an unforeseeable danger into her home, the doctor is unaware that she has unwittingly invited a danger into her life that could never have been foreseen.
I loved a lot of Nicci French's early work and it is with regret that I have had to report on more than one review that I think something has been lost from their more recent work. In The Safe House I am pleased to report that it is representational of some of their best work, and I am pleased that I did not let me opinion of more recent offerings stop me from reading it. I was engrossed by the book and devoured the whole story in one day - admittedly with being bedbound there wasn't much else to do!
This is French's writing at it's strongest for me. Set recently but, in 1998, sufficiently long ago to not have iPhones, iPods, Skype and Twitter infiltrating it, French is able to do what they used to do so well - create (as is typical) a first-person narrative that conveys raw emotions, suspicion, fear, unease, growing familiarity and friendship, the trials of motherhood, all along with a slightly dark edge and a feeling of foreboding. They craft well, as they have before, a lead character who clearly has an awareness of their own flaws and a first-person return on how they deal, or don't deal, with their challenges.
Sam's relationship with Elsie is conveyed well, and Sam's concerns about the closeness between her and her daughter come across well without the idea being rammed down the reader's throat - probably a concern experienced by every single mother. As the story progresses we hear why her lover, Danny, feels kept at first an emotional, then a geographical distance, and what became of Elsie's real father.
Sam and Danny's relationship is conveyed in a more terse, basic manner; their time together is sporadic, their feelings for each other kept both under control and not openly admitted but undeniably present and keeping their infrequent, unconventional union together. At times they clearly offer each other a form of support and release that is certainly not all roses and candlelit suppers, but there nonetheless, and yet at other times they seem desperately badly aligned.
Other characters, such as damaged Fiona and Michael Daley, are also crafted well, and Elsie becomes an important glue between the adult characters in the plot.
Not wanting to elaborate on the plot aspects any further, I'll move on to my experience as the reader; I've already said that I enjoyed this and found it hard to put down. Not being a single mother, or sharing many things in common with Sam whatsoever in fact, the fact that she comes across so strongly to the reader is a credit to the writers. If I had a criticism at all I would say that some of the characters were too clichéd, but then to play devil's advocate these were often the very ones used to highlight the new social network into which Sam was finding herself a part of, and that in itself was an important part of the commentary in illustrating Sam's reaction and emotions in her new surroundings as she tries to help a young woman rebuild her life whilst often wondering if she had her own entirely under control.
As the plot develops I found what is a bold storyline executed well. The dark, ominous tone that runs through the entire narrative sets the tone well for the twist in the story, and whilst we may have little in common and she may not be the perfect stereotype of a woman, a mother or a doctor, instead keeping her own style and distance and being slightly non-conformist, I found myself to very much like Sam Laschen. There is undeniable passion in her relationship with Danny, and I found her natural overcoming of her original reluctance to be involved with Fiona to be both convincing and a natural progression. As the story unfolds, I read her suffer humiliation and anger and a grief that was so visceral it raised a tear or two of sympathy, and one overriding factor that is very well delivered is her desire as a mother to protect her daughter.
So, happily, I am able to deliver a positive review about the work of an author who has been responsible for a couple of other books from this genre that I have returned to more than once. I thoroughly recommend The Safe House and think this will be joining Beneath The Skin on my shelf amongst books that I will pick up again in a few years and revisit, and again so after that. Highly recommended for a dark winter's day, on the sofa in front of a roaring fire.
Summary: A great book from the time when this "author" was on top of their game