Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman #BookReview #BlogTour

West Berlin, 1979. Helen Abell oversees the CIA's network of safe houses, rare havens for field agents and case officers amidst the dangerous milieu of a city in the grips of the Cold War. Helen's world is upended when, during her routine inspection of an agency property, she overhears a meeting between two people unfamiliar to her speaking a coded language that hints at shadowy realities far beyond her comprehension. Before the day is out, she witnesses a second unauthorized encounter, one that will place her in the sight lines of the most ruthless and powerful man at the agency. Her attempts to expose the dark truths about what she has witnessed will bring about repercussions that reach across decades and continents into the present day, when, in a farm town in Maryland, a young man is arrested for the double murder of his parents, and his sister takes it upon herself to find out why he did it.

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Safe Houses today, many thanks to the author, publishers and Abby Endler for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel, received through Netgalley.
Safe Houses is a fairly long read and could almost be described as two stories in one. The first follows Helen Abell, a CIA field agent working in Berlin in 1979 during the Cold War. There are still plenty of men in the CIA of the '70s who believe women are a liability to the Agency and Helen's boss is no exception. When she arrived in Berlin she was handed a position which was once a clerical role but despite the obvious snub, Helen is determined to do the best job possible and soon the provision of safe houses in the city becomes more efficient, secure and cleaner. It is this drive to provide the highest quality places for agency operatives which means Helen is upstairs in one such house when she inadvertently becomes privy to a secret conversation. Later that evening she witnesses the supposedly safe house being used again and realises she needs to act on the information she has learned. The second part of the story covers Anna's investigation into the shocking murder of her parents in 2014. Her brother may have been the perpetrator of this seemingly senseless act of violence but Anna is convinced there is more to the story and hires an investigator, Henry to help her uncover the truth. As they delve deeper into the past, they learn some shocking secrets about Anna's family history which results in them facing their own moments of peril.
The narrative switches between 1979 and 2014 with the first plot line being a complex and gripping spy thriller, and the second a riveting murder mystery. The two stories are obviously connected, with the events of the past having long term repercussions even though the Cold War is long over. The espionage scenes in the chapters set in 1979 evoke all the suspense of an era where the cities of Europe housed undercover agents known only by their cryptonyms, where information was passed through a complicated series of channels and those involved spent their days checking over their shoulders, wondering who they could really trust. The modern day mystery is also an entertaining read, with little titbits gradually revealed and some surprising twists before Anna and Henry finally discover the truth. Both the young women in the novel are richly imagined characters; their dogged determination to see justice prevail and to uncover the truth may lead them both into terrible danger but nevertheless they persist. The various settings of the book are rendered superbly too, giving a truly immersive feeling of time and depth to the proceedings.
Safe Houses has a complex plot which includes real life figures and events from history. It demands full concentration from its readers but rewards them with a pacy and engrossing story. For me, the real strength of the novel lies in the wonderfully vivid scenes in Cold War Europe but the intriguing links between the acts of the past and present also add to the terrific sense of tension in what is an exciting and intelligent thriller. Recommended.

Safe Houses will be published by Knopf in the USA on 3rd July 2018 and can be pre-ordered or purchased here. Don't forget to check out some of the other stops on the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Dan Fesperman’s travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers’ Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantánamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.