Another book from my current wave of catching up with NetGalley, it has the usual added charm of “I don’t remember why I picked this up, but let’s find out!”

And as I mentioned to the author on Twitter when I’d finished, I’m so upset with myself for not reading this sooner.

THE SAFE PLACE is a brilliant little book, with a charming everywoman heroine named Emily, whose life is a disaster. Loses her job, loses her agent, relationship with parents strained, the works. Until she is swept off her feet (almost literally) by Scott Denny, a stupidly wealthy businessman who just so happens to have an opening at his French estate to help watch the place, along with his wife and their daughter. Emily jumps at the chance…and well, not everything goes as planned.

It’s easy to make everyman-style characters into absolute “Mary-Sue” nightmares, and Emily never really falls into that category. She’s got more than her fair share of flaws and issues, but balances them nicely with her virtues and humor. The friendship between her and Nina – and later, Aurelia – grows organically, never really feeling forced as it could when in such close quarters with each other. (No matter how big the estate is, it’s going to feel like close quarters after a while.) The tension with Scott played beautifully; it’s almost a cliche, but these stereotypes come from somewhere, and it’s hardly surprising in Emily’s case. Handsome man comes along to play Prince Charming? Uh huh.

Without delving into spoiler territory, Scott’s character is really handled nicely–particularly since we don’t necessarily see too much of him. There is a lot on this man’s shoulders, whether he put it there himself or not, and he’s got to walk that line now and figure out what steps can come next. Really really nicely done, right up through the final pages.

And Emily gets a nice rounded story arc as well–again, not something we always see from this type of heroine. It would be simple to take the easy road, and Emily doesn’t crumble.

And while there’s part of me that says “well but what happened to…” and “what happens next?” I don’t think there’s really a cliffhanger at the end. A few unanswered questions, but some of my favorite thrillers are like that. There’s no need to tie up every last loose end. The ones that needed tied, are tied, and everyone is off to where they ought to be. (We assume.)

Absolutely worth noting that this is apparently Downes’ debut novel, which makes it all the more impressive in my mind. Nicely done, well-paced, well-written. A strong debut, and one with sure promise of that which is yet to come. I’ll be interested to see what Downes comes out with next.

Rating: **** – Recommended


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