Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
SETTING STEALS THE SHOW
By Kurt Rabin
The Free Lance-Star
THERE’S A NEW thriller out titled “Safe House,” but it bears no relation to the recent Denzel Washington movie of the same name. This one, set on Britain’s Isle of Man, is a stand-alone suspenser from Chris Ewan, best known for his lighthearted comic capers, the “Good Thief’s Guide” mystery series starring pro thief Charlie Howard.
“Safe House” begs the question, “How can a beautiful woman simply vanish?” Isle of Man resident Rob Hale, a heating engineer (plumber) with a love for motorcycle racing, wakes up in the hospital after a terrible bike accident. His first thought is for the gorgeous blond passenger who’d accompanied him. But doctors and cops say no such woman was found at the scene.
Rob insists his memories of the blonde aren’t a symptom of any concussion he incurred. So, where is she, and who’s covering up her existence? Is this in any way connected to Rob’s sister’s recent apparent suicide?
“Safe House” is fairly standard thriller fare that bogs down after a promising start. It doesn’t help matters that the protagonist never fully comes to life. An unreliable narrator from the get-go due to the concussion, Hale, a supposed bike-racing daredevil becomes a reluctant protagonist when the going gets rough and his own injuries mount, before turning into little more than an afterthought by book’s end.
The book’s saving grace is its fascinating setting. With 85,000 inhabitants on a little more than 200 square miles, the Isle of Man is a different kind of place. And not just because they drive on the left-hand side of the road there. This should tell you all you need to know: The national dish is chips, cheese and gravy—thick-cut chips covered in shredded Cheddar and thick gravy. Plus, the isle has got its own Gaelic tongue, the Manx language, and its own unique symbol, the triskelion, the three legs of Man conjoined at the thigh. The triskelion has been ubiquitous for centuries, along with its motto, which translates as “whichever way you throw it, it will stand.” Besides being home to the Manx cat, a feline with a shortened tail, as well as many mythical creatures and faeries, the Isle of Man has, since 1907, been the backdrop for the annual, world-renowned Tourist Trophy, or TT, motorcycle race that extends over 37 miles and takes place over a two-week period.
I’ll be picking up Ewan’s next Isle of Man thriller—not to hang out with handyman Rob Hale, who seems like a nice-enough bloke, but to spend more time visiting his stomping grounds.
Kurt Rabin is a copy editor with The Free Lance–Star.
By Chris Ewan
(Minotaur Books, $24.99, 448 pp.)
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